True Finns- what just happened?

Finnish tshirt from – election of the true Finns risks a changed position for women in Finnish society

Eek.  Just listened to the BBC world service programme “World Have Your Say” on which friend and fellow Euroblogger Jon Worth just appeared.

The immediate EU concern is that – given the Finnish parliament has to vote on any agreed bailouts (or as Jon rightly points out, long term loans to stricken countries underwhich the lenders actually make a profit on monies loaned) – the Portuguese bailout may be delayed, or need to be changed.
The learning point from this – and the Netherlands, France, and elsewhere where the populist right is on the rise – must surely be that it is no longer acceptable to regard the EU as an inevitable grand projet, pushed forward by an elite with a common mindset, which the public will unquestioningly accept.  There needs to be more open and honest explanation of what is going on, what the proposed solutions are an the consequences of doing them and not doing them.  And while this is no doubt the economic big picture, it goes for wider policy making too.

However, there ought to be concern too because this party that just got 20% of the vote and may end up forming part of the next Finnish government apparently said that Finnish women should study less and stay at home producing more True Finnish children.
I’m appalled on so many levels at that statement.
This can’t be real, can it?  A progressive, Nordic country really just had an election in which True Finns was the only party to increase its share of the vote?
If you want to read a female Finnish bloggers perspective, I’ve just found this one.

In the meantime, welcome to the twenty first century.
We may be seeing democracy as a rallying point outside Europe, but we need to take greater care to remember that being elected is about representation, not just leadership.
And we also need to think about who is being represented.
If ever we needed proof that women’s rights have been hard won and are not inviolable, this is a wake up call.

Comic Relief Doctor Who

Doctor Who season 6 (of New Who) starts this Saturday. But if the trailers are anything to go by, while my son’s been able to watch most of the previous series thanks to judicious use of fast forward (I’m sure he thinks all Cybermen move at super speed), I’m not convinced there’s going to be anything in the new one that’s good for him. All the better for me of course, but hard to explain to him.

So instead, here’s the specially-written for Comic Relief sketches. He’s too little to get the glass floor and short skirts jokes, but he likes the idea of the TARDIS in the TARDIS… In the meantime, please do donate to Comic Relief:
Because sometimes its other people that are worth it.

Mums and work: tell Rebecca it gets easier but only a bit

Rebecca Asher is – depending on your point of view – either a whinger who doesn’t understand how life works, or a modern woman who has discovered she’s been sold a pup.
As a journalist, she seems to have got published a feminist book that many of us have effectively written in blogs, talked about in playgroups or NCT get togethers but have not got the time or energy to write down on paper.  She’s called it “Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality“.
Very clever.  I’d say shattered is just how most new mums feel.
The essential question is:
I’ve been educated as well as any man, secured a high flying job as well as any man, earned my own money, built a social life, but – now I’ve married a man and had a baby and my life revolves around their needs- was this all a lie?  Are we really any further on than the 1950s?

And the honest answer is: it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I know exactly where she’s coming from.  There’s no easy answer.  Misogynists on the comments forums at the Guardian say that “you want to have your cake and eat it“, or “you should’ve thought of that before having a baby”.
Comments also call her spoiled, that it’s all a sense of entitlement that’s been frustrated and not a legitimate complaint.  Often there’s a comment from someone saying something like I hold down two jobs, I’ve got four children and you don’t catch me being all self-pitying.
Or, I did all this twenty years ago and it’s tough but you do it…  To be honest, I dislike those replies more than the misogynistic ones.  After all, they seem stuck in the view that things have to be the way they are, defeatist rather than simply offensive…

There is no real feminist answer to this problem.
Feminism focuses on work, treatment of women and sexual politics (including the avoidance of children) but this element of the majority of women’s lives is controversial for feminists.
Instead we have conflicting values at play here.  Let me show you why.

I want to work.
Work helps me feel a sense of self-worth, justifies the education that previous generations of female campaigners fought for me to be able to have, enables me to use my mind and skills putting something useful into the world, and have income to spend to make the money go around.

I want to raise my son.
I went through a lot to have him here safely, he is the most precious thing in our lives, I don’t think anyone else can raise him as well as his father and I can, he’s lovely, funny, interesting, cuddly, and I want to be with him.  I enjoy the camaraderie of early years motherhood (both online and in person) and, unlike Rebecca, I positively like the singing at toddler group (I’d better as I lead it!)

We have allowed the debate to become polarised, to become a choice.
Are we “real mums” who stay at home?  The household lives off their partner’s single income while they raise the children, balance the budget, avoid disposable nappies, chocolate and sweets, do baby signing, eat organic vegetables from their own plot, make the easter bonnets for the school competition and act as taxi service, PA, life coach, chef etc. etc.?
Or are we “real women” who go out to work?  We juggle career with home life responsibilities, earn our own money, build our careers and become the women we hope we can be, living as full, active members of the workforce.  And so our children go to daycare, and other people help with collecting them when the work deadlines have to take precedence, and we come home to collect overtired children that have been learning bad behaviour from the others they’ve been left there with…
Neither satisfies.

Society constantly undervalues the roles involved in childrearing.  Intelligent conversation, answering questions through exploration, reading together, learning tool use and acceptable behaviours… we have treated these as menial labour, partly because of an erroneous assumption that childcare involves a lot of gloriously free time (I learned otherwise – not all babies sleep in the day time), partly because looking after children ends up resulting in lots of genuinely menial work (more washing than you could ever imagine, feeding, napisaning the “real” nappies and tidying after toddlers).

In business, we are always told that the most important and valuable asset that a company has is its people.  Then look at the pay of childcare professionals, up to and including qualified teachers, and tell me that the pay really matches the long term investment that we as a society are making in the next generation of workers…

Then look at attitudes towards mothers in the workplace.
Leave aside the idea that it is middle class women that have benefited from feminism at the expense of working class men.
Despite the skills learned through parenting: multi-tasking, time management, compassionate communication (as one Guardian commenter described it), persuasion (getting my son dressed and out the house is sometimes the most difficult negotiation I have in a day)… none of these things matter one jot because they were away from the office and were not meetings-based skills (if you chair the PTA, that counts).

We are not the society we were in the time of the baby boomers.  Unlike our parents who are retired (and therefore able to help with the childcare?  But having done it once, why would they want to again?) we expect to work into our late sixties, to have minimal pensions, live into our eighties.
But we know that the penalty of taking time out of our labour market for childrearing impacts for the long-term.  So why allow 50% of the population to have their careers permanently scarred because of their gender and not their talents?
And just as our careers have to last longer, the need to be carers for partners or parents kicks in too.  The vast majority doing this at present are women – but that is generational.  What are today’s mums of young children going to say if it is them that this burden falls to again – because they’ve already lost out on career development through childrearing?
One woman commenting in the Guardian comments said she resented mothers expecting to pick up their career where they left off because they should accept the penalty for having had a baby and “working at 75% for 10 years” but a father was better than a bachelor because he has to work to support the family.  I’m horrified that another woman would say that.
I’m all for a right to request flexible working for all, including part-time working, but this commenter’s attitude shows there needs to be social pressure not only on companies but also with co-workers to ensure that working parents are not being made to feel guilty that they need to use leave, and work their conditioned hours so that they can spend time with their children rather than always the pressure to stay longer, and quantity of work appearing to be valued over quality.

And don’t think this is just a middle class issue – how many mothers working per hour in jobs that just about fit in with available childcare or school hours can’t get promotion because of not being able to take on the more awkward hours?
And if you drop out of the labour market, how will you get back in?

We need proper, high quality childcare available term time and holiday, recognising both the needs of the child in terms of care and learning, and of the parent in terms of a happy place to let their children develop which also allows them to work.

In the workplace, the first issue is one of recognising employees as humans not just resources.  Everyone has a life outside work – it ought to be a prerequisite!  But while being a champion skydiver is something to be respected and time allowed, accept that parents ought to put children first, or carers their care-ee first. Be clear that this is understood and they’ll be grateful for the flexibility and more dedicated and loyal as a result. Normalising shared parenting  – say, meaning that each parent has four days in their office each rather than five and three, now that would really help.

Finally, no one tells prospective parents what hell awaits them: birth, post partem life, colic, sleep deprivation, sore nipples, breasts as public property, being constantly covered in someone else’s bodily fluids…
This new job, at least in the first few months, one that is not limited in terms of office hours. So the men complaining that they’ve gone to work all day and why should they be handed a screaming bundle on returning home miss the point – the parent out to work may have worked nine hours but so has the parent looking after the child, and that evening caring time should be shared.

But it gets easier.  And after a year or so, they’re a delight.  When they go to nursery, you realise you’re sharing your house not just with an extension of you but an individual with thoughts, feelings, options, preferences, ideas and a whole life ahead of them which is theirs, not yours.  And with wrap around childcare you can even work!  Now, what to do about school journeys and school holidays…

But let’s challenge the perception that life isn’t fair and women should just accept it.  We do the next generation a disservice if we can’t persuade fathers that their role is with their children in person, not just as the wallet in the workplace, and employers that letting employees be themselves will help their wellbeing and their productivity.


Why vote YES for the alternative vote?

1) Because each constituency gets the candidate that gets more that 50% of preferences expressed by the voters there.
Even though some will be “woohoo!” preferences and others “grudgingly but only because s/he is marginally better than that other bloke/ woman I really couldn’t stand to have” preferences, to have ranked the candidate indicates some sort of goodwill towards them.
NB there’s no guarantee that 50% of the votes cast is the same as 50% of those eligible to vote.  For that, you’d need to make voting compulsory.

2) Because no seat should be a safe seat – 200,000 or so voters have determine the results of several recent elections via key marginals. And what’s wrong with candidates having to seek the second preferences of a wider group of voters in a constituency?
The theory of First Past the Post is we vote for individuals not for a prime minister or party.  This is clearly not what really happens, but little energy is put into campaigning in the safe seats. There jolly well should be if our votes are meant to be equal.
The argument against is that candidates might start using more BNP-like language to seek that sort of party’s voters second preferences.
This is because if the BNP came last in a constituency, then BNP supporters’ transferred second preference votes would be the first to be transferred and could determine the outcome in specific seats as claimed by the NO2AV campaign and in a constituency split very closely between two leading candidates it may be only those of the voters that gave their first preference to the party that received the fewest first preferences.  Just a thought: would that clip have seemed as dramatic if “extremists” had been replaced throughout by “the Green Party”?
The idea seems to be to say that AV gives supporters of smaller parties more than one vote. Blogger Rupert Read explains this brilliantly.  If you go into a restaurant and you find your first choice isn’t available because it wasn’t popular enough, why shouldn’t you have the chance to opt for a second choice dish rather than go without food?

3) Because unless you are a tribalist supporter of a specific political party you probably don’t have one party that closely reflects all your views – AV allows you to rank the candidates to express this.
Or not to – you can rank as many or few as you like. Oh and you might actually want to find out what they stand for – better political engagement!

4) Because your vote is often either tactical, or if you support a small party, choosing between candidates for the least worst ones most likely to get in.
This scheme allows you to both vote for where your heart lies (say a smaller party) and then choose between the others on offer that might stand a bigger chance of getting in thereby giving a more accurate picture of political beliefs in the UK. So yes, in a way you are still voting tactically, but you are doing this visibly rather than in your head…

5) Because most of us are already voting in elections that use a system other than First Past the Post right here in the UK… Are you in Wales? Scotland?  Using STV in Northern Ireland?  Voting for the London Mayor? Or Mayors more widely – using AV itself? Or what about the European Parliament Elections – surely you vote in those?  All those elections already use a system other than FPTP, so are we REALLY going to be totally confused and unable to vote if we use something else for our General Elections?

6) Because the BNP are NOT more likely to get elected!
The BNP are campaigning against AV. But if most people in a constituency want to vote BNP we should not be looking at rigging the voting system against them as the best way to stop them getting into parliament.
For the BNP to be elected under AV, they would need more than 50% of the vote to have expressed goodwill towards them by giving them a preference.
Frankly, democracy means the power of the people, and if a majority want to vote BNP then we should let them express that, even if we find the message abhorrent.  There are better ways to confront the BNP message than to attempt to use the voting system against them.
But FPTP is the system that means more seats are gained by extremist parties. If you look at Council seats, second and third and fourth preferences of voters voting for other parties would in very many cases have transferred against the BNP in the Council seats that they have won.

7) Because it is really not that complicated…
First Past the Post predates mass literacy thus only requiring an X – but most people know how to write their numbers these days.  And to prove that the press is making a meal of it and that it is not difficult, here’s a group of school kids to explain!

8 ) Because the line from the No campaign that “it’s more difficult to predict” is actually a benefit…
It should mean less lazy journalism and pollsters in the run up to elections.

9) Because “it costs money to change” doesn’t mean it is the wrong thing to do
Here’s the Spectator on why… and a challenge on the figures (which No campaigner chair Margaret Beckett described on Radio 4 Any Questions today as having been extrapolated from the costs of introducing electronic counting machines in Scotland…).
£250 million sounds like a lot of money – but £20 million? A drop in the ocean and nothing compared with e.g. the NAO report that fraud, customer error, and DWP staff error costs £900 million per year each last year! (That’s a whole other issue that needs sorting).
And was it cost effective to extend the vote to women in 1918?  To younger voters in 1969? Would it have made it the wrong thing to do?

10) Because there isn’t going to be a referendum for AV Plus, D’Hondt, pairing or an STV system around any time soon
AV retains many of the familiar things about FPTP (ability to have landslide governments, smallish constituencies represented by one person) – whether you see those as good or bad depends on your view of FPTP and proportional representation systems. Actually, there’s not a massive difference between AV and STV if you realise that it is how STV would play out if used in a single member constituency…
But honestly, AV is the only show in town as an alternative to FPTP.  
If it’s not enough of a change for you, by all means vote no. As blogger Neil Harding points out, that’s rather like saying no to a minimum wage becasue you support a £8 level not a £5 level…
But I’d urge you to take part, and obviously – given this post – to vote yes. What have you got to lose?