Saturday, 31 December 2016

"Kickin' Up One Hell Of A Fuss To Help Enact Social Change" : New Years Resolutions 2017

2016 has been the year when I finally decided to share my voice with the world through the media of Twitter and (often quite frankly poo-poo stirring) blog posts. I don't regret my decision one bit. Thanks to the wonder of online connecting, which on balance I've found to be more of a positive than negative experience,
I've managed to raise awareness of the importance of seeing us trans people as unique individuals rather than slutty, seedy pseudo-stereotypes perpetrated by those who cannot let go of draconian religious dogma. I'm glad my Lutheran Christian faith has been strengthened this year, having explored biblical quotations and texts that show Jesus was an inclusive, not divisive figure. It's been essential to realise too that intersexuality and asexuality deserves more media exposure so that the populous at large understand that being different isn't necessarily a bad thing and that queers, asexual and intersexual people deserve the same respect and attention that lesbian, gay, bi and trans people have gotten as part of the LGBTQIA community. Rejecting the Alt-Right poster-boy troll Milo's call to turn LGBTQIA people against each other on the basis of religion or fear needs to be continued well into 2017, especially now he's gone and got himself a book deal. Let's just say I'm yawning and tutting at the prospect of reading his explanations for hatred against those who are Gun Sense activists or Feminists, let alone his blatant Islamophobia. A Juvenalian laugh a minute, I suspect. #Sad.

Unlike Failo, I've found much joy in trying to help others in an active way. I've joined an amazing charity, GenderFreeDV that aims to improve service provision for all survivors of domestic abuse and domestic violence, irrespective of gender identity, sexuality, age, race, nationality, disability or religious beliefs. I've even managed to tell two of my favourite actresses, Heida Reed and Ruby Bentall, how much I admire their work, especially on Poldark (and also to declare my undying love for Mr Jack Farthing, who can't seem to do no wrong portraying the despicable George Warleggan with the same level of aplomb as the incredibly sweet Freddie Threepwood of Blandings fame).

So now my attention turns to concocting a new set of fitting New Years Resolutions that don't need to commandeered from the mouths of babes or Donnie Drumpf. Some are confoundedly easier to come up with than others but it's always good to try and outdo one's performance from the previous year....and since swearing to be morally better than silly Alt-Righters is a particularly low benchmark, it shouldn't be so much of a problem this coming year.
  • I aim to finish my supposedly incredibly important current writing projects:
    • an exploration of Mrs Bennett's early life as the young wayward daughter of a country lawyer whose father has been besmirched by the actions of a cousin who can't help but be an overt chancer, philanderer and embezzler.
    • a satirical piece on traversing the boundaries of gender non-binary and trans acceptability...everything from the astounding moment that you find out being a trans woman means you can only really date straight and bi guys (bring on the muscle bound cheapskates and low down woman haters, as Annie Lennox warned us about in the Eurhythmics' 1987 hit song, "I Need A Man") to confessing you own 12 boxes of sterling silver jewellery and causing your girl friends to go into shock when they see you own more  multi-glittery David Bowie style platform sandals than they do.
  • I want to help inspire more Millennials to get involved in politics, at a local, national and international level. As I talked about in my previous blogpost, it's essential to try and shake off the apathetic mood that has currently gripped our country in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. Voters need to realise that social and economic changes happen when we work together to tell Establishment figures that enough is enough; that empty platitudes and divisive policies that only benefit the top 20% in society aren't the way forward. Chronic underfunding of local services needs to be challenged and the Government can't use the Brexit process as a reason not to make the necessary changes to funding decisions for rural counties. Social care needs more sustainable funding streams, SEN pupils deserve more 1-1 support in mainstream schools to help them, achieve the 5 A*-C grades they need to enter the local workforce. Whether Millennials choose to join a local party branch, blog/podcast/vlog their opinions and views or just bother to turn up to the polling station on election day, it would be better than the current unwillingness to engage on political subjects for fear of not making a real difference. If we don't try, we can't complain when policy decisions are made that go against our own wishes and aspirations for a better country. Anyways read my blogpost if you want to know more about my sentiments : http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/reflections-at-christmastide-2016.html
  • I'm going to continue working with GenderFreeDV to help raise their profile nationally and perhaps to help secure funding for key research to be undertaken into the reasons why there are low reporting levels of DVA amongst the LGBTQIA community and male survivors. I want to look into ways of making services more accessible to those who have a disability or have been victims of familial violence as a result of going against decisions made on the basis of a family relative's faith. I want to make sure that Sex and Relationships Education is implemented nationally and must be attended by all students regardless of their faith background. It's time to realise that having freedom of religious expression doesn't mean we can use it to harm others; it doesn't give a father licence to beat his daughter for refusing to marry the man he has chosen for her or for a mother to threaten her teenage son with cutting off financial aid because he has come out as LGBQIA (especially as the UK tax payer may be paying her Child Benefit to help support him during his educational period). I can't wait to meet with MPs such as the Shadow Women and Equalities Minister Sarah Champion or the Women and Equalities Minister Justine Greening to talk through these issues in depth and to work with Jess Phillips on a proposed DVA bill that will address service provision for male survivors.
  • I hope to find an Administrative based job to help support me whilst I'm getting my writing completed. I have the skills, having studied English and Philosophy at York and then Accountancy and HR postgraduate wise but it seems difficult to get my foot on the jobs ladder. I've explored HR and trans issues through different prisms in my blogpost and I hope that I've helped those currently employed in workplaces around the world to have the strength to confide in their HR professional if they are a victim of workplace bullying or harassment or have decided to transition openly. I'd love to give HR advice and support myself within a large organisation one day and I'll keep applying for HR positions to help do this.
  • I'm going to keep updating my blog and move into podcasting because I realise that some people would prefer hearing what I say in a short broadcast rather than having to scroll down my blog. I'm hoping to do it at least once a fortnight and to focus on a number of issues, including Votes at 16, left wing politics, LGBTQIA policy and transfeminism whilst making them accessible to those who may not have heard about such issues before. It's a bit daunting for me to think about it because I'm worried my verbal voice won't translate as well as my written voice but I'll give it a good go!
  • Finally I'm going to be a lot more like Eddie Monsoon. I started my blog with her as a key inspiration and it's time to have oodles more fun just as she seemed to have in early middle age. No longer do I feel the need to hide myself away because of my body, gender identity or disability. I'm going to continue my Magpie antics, wear more amazingly swishy sequin dresses and just enjoy my life.

So it's time to say Ta-rah to 2016. I can't say it's been great 99% of the time but at least I've survived your soul destroying antics...just. You may have taken some amazing celebrities and it seems like the end of a truly progressive era but the fear you have espoused only makes me more determined to get my voice heard, to help craft a new generation of game-changers who want to improve the lives of ordinary folk like ourselves, whether they help create "super happy fake news" masquerading as exhilarating Horatian satire, to having the sheer gall slash bravery to stand as local councillors in the next round of elections. 2017 will be the year that progressive positivity takes over, banishing political and artistic apathy back where it belongs...lingering under the shivering, sad depths of people who share Donnie Drumpf's dark chameleonic soul.  I wish all my blog readers and ideological foe a very happy, prosperous New Year 2017!
 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Reflections at Christmastide 2016

It's that time of the year again when you wear a swing dress to hide the few extra pounds put on by snacking on sugarytastic mince pies, buttery shortbread and piecemeal finely wrapped choccie coins and Santa figures. What a year of seismic changes it has been. Last year, everything seemed to have an air of stale certainty about it. I'd voted Conservative at the General Election and was patiently racking up my online research on EU directives and its possible future direction ready to decide which way to swing in the Referendum. Being a working class trans woman was seen as edgy as opposed to now being thrust under some drab, poorly defined "liberal elite" label used by irate non-graduate ultra Brexiteers  (that's thankfully only about 15% of the population who believe in Brexit with no bad consequences in mind to deter them) intent on humiliating anyone who has the audacity to point out the flaws in spouting vacuous platitudes on demand that can't be coloured red, white and blue....besides I'd prefer a Brexit coloured red, gold and green one as per the Boy's ironic but aptly titled 1983 hit, "Karma Chameleon". I'd never have thought that Mr Smug fake Eco-warrior himself David Cameron would be utterly thrashed and trashed by Bobo, Fartage and Co and then have the brass neck to stand aside rather than face up to his responsibilities (after all, it was him who decided to have an EU Referendum pledge in his party's manifesto and to call the Referendum for 2016, the year of questionable decision making). I didn't believe that the Conservative party that had been brave enough to bring in same sex marriage would end up being led by a woman who makes Maggie May sound vaguely inspiring like Winston Churchill, rhetorically speaking. I didn't think the Government would be so willing to veer to the jingoistic, fearmongering extreme right when I voted to keep my MP Karl McCartney in his plum job after forgiving him for his anti-same-sex marriage booboo stance. I didn't think that Mrs May would revert back to Thatcherite type on education issues (going Gaga for grammar school expansion but totes ignoring the need to improve funding for SEN students in mainstream schools) and undermining striking trade unionists (whose pay and conditions haven't improved despite the apparent "Post Brexit boom" we're now meant to be experiencing). The actions of my new nemesis Philip Dumbfounding Davies after being elected to the Women and Equalities Committee were reminiscent of a jumped up miserly type Mr Charles Dickens warned us about when he wrote "Hard Times" and "A Christmas Carol".  And let's just not mention Mr Cheeto Jesus aka Orange Felicia's election in November. I'm still having major psychotherapy to get over that momentously idiotic decision! At least I can say that none of my American buddies ended up voting for him....small consolation but I'll grab it by the coattails.

So who have I turned to in times of such gut-wrenching crisis? A surprise to myself....The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. Most people in Lincolnshire will probably think I'm crazy....that I've become far too idealistic and sentimental in my early middle age. Believe me, I'm no firebrand Corbynista intent on bringing down the Royal Family or going hard against the Trident missile system. I'm a pacifist but I understand the public mood and most voters do feel that the Trident system acts as an effective deterrent that may be needed now more than ever with the dawn of the Trump Administration and a possible new Cold War Arms Race fuelled by sado masochistic desire slash "tiny hand" syndrome than any genuine desire to bolster defences.  I've dealt with Labour's challenge in Lincolnshire in an earlier blogpost: http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/are-labour-facing-existential-crisis-in.html. After writing the blogpost I discovered that Corbyn has ideas that could given half the chance. There's the usual Labour spin line policies...more money for the NHS, the guarantee of a £9 National Living Wage, scrapping the much hated bedroom tax, yada yada yada BUT there are some policies that are worth some consideration but rarely get much coverage. The Arts Premium proposed for primary school pupils in England and Wales and the automatic guarantee for EU citizens to remain in the UK and maintain the employment rights and in-work benefits that they currently enjoy are important to liberal independent voters such as myself. There needs to be far more discussion of the benefits of renationalisation of public transport systems, especially with regards to the establishing of a municipal bus system that would allow rural councils to run subsided services during peak travel times for an affordable fare. Labour have already committed to protecting the Triple lock on Pensions and I doubt that they would consider taking away the Heat and Fuel Allowance or free bus passes from working class or rural pensioners. These policies are good news for those who traditionally turn out to vote at a General Election and haven't yet been talked about in much depth by the Conservatives...they seem too hooked up on Brexit to care about domestic policies or chronic underfunding of local services and as for engaging in a sophisticated debate over renationalisation, you can forget it. Tory grandees are more likely to filibuster a debate on the Istanbul Convention and we all know how hideous an action that was. Filibustering has to end as a Commons practice and I hope that Labour MPs will try and introduce such a ban soon enough!

There has also been more of a pivot towards offering support to Millennials. House prices remain stiflingly unaffordable for most working class people with young families; some rogue landlords still provide shockingly shoddy rental properties for young adult workers that wouldn't even be deemed suitable for laboratory rats and funding is being pulled unapologetically from arts community projects and charities across the UK who provide services that benefit predominately teenagers and young adults. That's why I am pleased to see that Corbyn has raised the issue of youth homelessness, with John Healey, Labour's shadow housing minister promising to earmark 4000 additional housing association homes for rough sleepers (reviving the Rough Sleepers Initiative). Corbyn promises to build a million homes within the first five years of a Labour Government by investing £500bn into the UK economy. 500,000 of those homes would be council houses. Right to Buy would be ended (which leaves me with mixed feelings but would at least maintain a decent council housing stock for families most in need). Labour want to bring in a "Tenants' Rights Charter" which aims to offer greater protection for Generation Renters, with secure tenancies, outlawing letting agents administration charges; strengthening renters' rights so they can be better protected from unfair evictions and to bring rented houses up to a decent national standard. I'd say that most voters would agree that these policies, if implemented, would help, rather than hinder them.

I am pleased that Corbyn is considering scrapping tuition fees and ensuring the reinstatement of the Educational Maintenance Grant for sixth form college attendees. I also believe that Diane Abbott was right to point out back in July that Labour must reinstate bursaries for hard working nursing students. These policies are part of Corbyn's overarching desire to create a National Education Service (NES) that will allow a person to learn from the cradle to the grave. I hope this means that community learning classes will be made more accessible to working class people to attend and include everything from Cake Decoration to Functional Skills and IT training. Job Centre Plus advisors would also be able to send claimants on courses that would actually help to make them more employable in the local jobs market whilst fitting with the claimant's aspirations for the future. There's no point sending an IT graduate on a ECDL Advanced course or an English graduate on a Functional Skills English course. Immigrants who need to improve their English skills would also be able to do so with the funding of ESOL courses around the UK, helping improve integration within communities that have experienced high levels of immigration. The NES would be transformative and yet entirely affordable, only adding 2% to UK corporation tax. We shouldn't be cutting corporation tax as May suggests; businesses should shoulder their fair share of responsibility towards funding public services and because there is a greater need for funding, we should be increasing it. That decision alone would provide more funding for the adult skills budget which has fallen 40% since 2010. Such bold policy decision making would pretty much secure my vote at the next General Election.

Corbyn also hasn't totally abandoned New Labour youth policies much to my great pleasure. It's fantastic that Labour are still promising an end to exploitative zero-hours contracts; the disgraceful HR practices in the workhouse style warehouses at JD Sports and Sports Direct show that decisive action needs to be taken to strengthen Health and Safety and employment legislation so that managers know exactly what is lawful behaviour and what could lead to their dismissal/arrest. I also applaud Labour's repeated commitment to backing the Votes at 16 legislation and hope that Conservative MPs such as my own can be persuaded to back it. Citizenship education needs to be strengthened to ensure that young people have the knowledge and skills needed to make an informed decision at the voting booth.

The Liberal Democrats have also been strong on my political radar recently, especially after the stunning victory pulled off in Richmond Park and the increased percentage and number of votes in Sleaford and North Hykeham. I remain a Remainer at heart and believe that we should still maintain strong diplomatic and economic ties with the EU despite our Brexit process. I'm in favour of there being a 2nd referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal sourced by the Tory Government and if that wasn't possible, a General Election should be called prior to acceptance of the deal. I didn't vote for a right-wing led Brexit process in 2015, so I could not countenance voting for the Conservative party as it currently stands. I imagine there are a few independent voters who voted Conservative and Remain considering which party to vote for should a General Election happen next year and I know one of my goals for my blog is to continue exploring Lib Dem policies and see how they differ from Labour, other than on Brexit. A party's Brexit approach is important to my decision making as a voter and as already mentioned, guaranteeing EU Citizens the Right to Stay in the UK is an absolute must for me. The Lib Dems do have some interesting policies: for example, giving British Sign Language (BSL) official status in the UK, which I'm 100% for and ensuring all learn emergency First Aid skills in their classrooms. The call for £4bn of emergency funding for the NHS for 2017/18, including £1.3bn for social care was a bold move by the Lib Dems and asking for the cap to be lifted on public sector pay so that nurses and teachers can get a pay rise sits well with me. Yes for some the Lib Dems will be seen as the party that reversed its policy on tuition fees or the party that only looks after middle class Remainers but I look forward to reading more about their policy ideas in 2017 and decide whether they offer a credible alternative to Labour.

Whichever side of the political fence you happen to be on, one thing is quite clear; Millennials can no longer be apathetic about politics. When we don't take an interest in helping to develop our communities by supporting measures and policies designed to improve quality of life prospects for working class kids, when we don't bother to turn up to polling stations to exercise our hard-fought right to vote in local and national elections and referenda, can we really be surprised at not getting the result we wanted or needed? I hear plenty of friends complain about declining rural bus services, reduction in funding for local mental health charities or closure of local community centres and swimming pools. I hear friends hark on about the dangers of leaving the EU and handing the Tories apparent absolute power over maintenance of our employment legislation and funding local government services. It's too late to make a difference to the outcome of the EU Referendum (it looks like we're going to leave the EU by the end of 2019/20 and probably leave the Single Market acrimoniously to boot) but that doesn't mean it's time to crawl back under our duvets, watching Breaking Bad box sets and thinking that our voices and our votes will not matter:
  • Watch the news, keep up to date with key bills/policy on social media and research them a little to find out what changes they may make to your life as a Millennial voter.
  • Start following your local MP on Twitter and ask them whether they are going to vote on any key bills that you consider essential for them to back.
  • Ask your friends what they think about their local services and what they feel needs improving and whether they trust Theresa May's Government to fund local services any better next year.
  • Consider joining a political party, any political party or decide to stay independent like me and shadow each political party to see what they could offer Millennial voters policy wise.
  • Write blog posts, articles or create podcasts and Vlogs to get your unique voice out there into the wide world. Don't be afraid to critique Government policy/politics in general in a sensible, non-threatening way. I can guarantee you that you'd have at least one follower, even if they happen to based all the way in Russia!
  • Consider becoming a local councillor if you feel you can make a difference to your community. You can help get more funding for arts projects or to keep the street lights on!
  • Best of all, remember that local charities and voluntary organisations will need the help of Millennials now more than ever, whether it be fundraising over the phone, sorting out accounting records or providing advice and support on the frontline, either through administering First Aid or listening to a young homeless trans person tell you their heartbreaking story about surviving domestic violence and abuse at the hands of their fundamentalist Christian father.
I've learned a lot this year. I guess my favourite quote comes from Aphra Behn and is a pertinent reminder for me: "Variety is the soul of pleasure". There's nothing wrong with taking an interest in a number of different causes and projects; I recognise that my status as a trans, dyspraxic, feminist lady who has knowledge of HR and political issues gives me plenty to write about. Being intersectional means addressing each layer of my identity whilst not privileging one over the other or trying to speak for a whole community or group in an article. I have my own unique voice and I am now no longer afraid to use it. So when I talk about the need for everyone to help address rape culture, issues of domestic violence and abuse and to establish appropriate Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) for all UK students, I know that my interest in those issues come from a genuinely deep-seated desire to see instances of rape, domestic violence and abuse fall in the UK with SRE leading the way in this. I'm kinda glad at the end of this wretched year I've found out from Jess Phillips and Sarah Champion that SRE will be made part of the National Curriculum. It doesn't mean that it's time for me to stop talking about it. On the contrary, I'd love to see LGBTQIA issues and relationships covered under SRE, so that students never have to feel ashamed about lacking sex drive or wanting to change their gender identity. So yes, I'll carry on talking about SRE, about politics and putting my voice out there. Not to try and get more followers on Twitter but to hopefully let others in my situation know that they can do the same!

2017 will bring its fair share of challenges. Trump's presidency may yet plunge us into an Arms Race that ends with us all being blown to smithereens before All Hallows Eve and Brexit may lead to further divisions within UK society. However 2017 will also bring hope and change. The Alt-Right ideologies can be defeated...after all its pretty much white supremacy ponced up for a social media age. There are alternatives to populist nationalism but we must be brave enough to speak out and offer an aspirational, inclusive vision for the future. Working with charities and voluntary organisations to help people on the frontline of Conservative austerity cuts is just as important as writing blogs and challenging xenophobic rhetoric. Brexit may be happening but we Millennial leaning Remainers are not so powerless when it comes to trying to shape the future of the UK. We can make sure that voters choose to maintain an open, friendly, inclusive style of governance. So let's roll up our sleeves, keep positive, get involved in our local communities, talk proactively about politics and revel in the diversity of our amazing country. That's what I'll be doing anyways!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Hope, Not Fear: My Response to the Terror Attack in Berlin

It's so tempting to play the "blame game". This year we seem to have become quite unnervingly adept at coming up with pre-planned responses to terrorist atrocities committed on Western European soil to try and score political points. Espousing fear rhetoric, seems to have become the norm.

The truck attack at a Weihnachtsmarkt at Breitscheidplatz in Berlin on Monday evening defies any rational attempt at justification. 12 innocent shoppers were going about their business preparing for the Christmas holiday, getting in the festive spirit by partaking of Gl├╝hwein and listening to Weihnachtslieder (Christmas carols). Then they were murdered by a terrorist or terrorists unknown whose primary goal was to make Germans scared for their future. So-called IS (or ISIS) has "taken responsibility" for the attack...aka they are happy to celebrate the deaths of the innocent to make them look as if they are still a powerful force for Jihad in Europe. That's absolutely galling in itself. What's equally galling is see victims being used as pawns to try and prove an ideological point; the dead haven't even been buried yet but politicians on the far-right including UKIP MEP Nigel Farage have been blaming Angela Merkel, using her refugee policy as the main reason to explain why the attack happened, despite the fact they have no concrete evidence to back up their claims. As of yet there are no indications as to the suspect's nationality or immigration status as they haven't been arrested. The person who had been presumed to be the driver turned out to be a Pakistani national who has now been freed due to "insufficient evidence" linking him to the attack.

As expected the Alt-Right cringe-inducing tweeters want us to join the dots and immediately berate all Muslims (especially refugees) for their "religion of hate" ideology when most of those that tweet can't even accurately describe the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam let alone interpret the Jihadi motivational passages. I've always believed that it's important to "know your ideological foe" so-to-speak and that's why I've made myself read the UKIP and Conservative Brexiteer comments and party manifestoes, followed the annual conference coverage and talked to avid supporters. If I can bring myself to do that (as a English and Philosophy graduate it's not that difficult), then alt-righters can do a bit of research of their own and perhaps find out why the terrorists carrying out attacks across Western Europe differ from the Muslim refugees escaping the fighting in the Middle East...because I can guarantee those tweeters that a blanket dismissal of an entire religion isn't quite going to cut it as a valid reason to spread fear and anxiety within the German, French or British electorates. Hope, not fear wins my vote and will win the votes of many on the centre left. Any political party wishing to solicit my vote at the next General Election has to understand that....probably why I'll never countenance voting UKIP or for any far right party.

This "Liberal Luvvie" says....

To the Alt-Right, the "liberal luvvie metropolitan elite" as they call people like me (despite the fact I'm working class and live in Lincoln with my parents) are "Islamic terrorist apologists" because we simply ask for all the facts to be established after a through investigation by police before starting to cast aspersions all about the place. Alt-Righters call any attempt by us to praise the emergency services for rescuing survivors and for conducting initial enquiries efficiently as "virtue signalling" and any respectful tweets shown to victims and survivors as "false" or "irrelevant". It's saddening to see these days a scepticism shown towards genuine expressions of compassion on social media. Whenever there is an organised attempt to show compassion for the victims of terrorist acts, whether it be tweeting along thoughts to a #PrayFor hashtag or writing blog posts or articles that call for hate rhetoric to be contained, there are tweeters out there quick to rubbish them for their thoughtfulness. I'm not sure if these tweeters are paid Russian mind game merchants or just dissatisfied melancholy folks needing to fill up their day but it's just a ridonkulous waste of time going around trolling for the sake of upsetting others. I've noticed that those who do troll deliberately tend to be the very same people who are keen to defend intrinsic"nationalistic values" which allow for freedom of expression, including freedom of religious expression. So these trolls should know it's not acceptable socially to demonise people for showing respect, tolerance and offering prayers for the victims. I don't think anyone would have the temerity to rebuke people for showing respect to others at a public event regardless of their political preferences...the trolls would be too afraid of being arrested and then being shamed/forced to apologise for their actions. If only there was an automatic way of doing that online...some flashing red shame button with Trump's face on it would do it!
Anyways I saw an exasperated comment from a teenager to a right wing detractor who told her to "get up and do something"; she posted a message image saying..."I know that tweeting prayer hashtags probably doesn't help solve anything but it's the thought that counts. We're teens after all. Stop rubbishing us for showing our respect for the victims". That message makes me feel hopeful for the future. Hope not fear, compassion not malevolence... those are the sorts of virtues we need to aim to show in our response to terrorist attacks.

Of course if you manage to get round the Alt-Right trolling of your compassionate tweets...what they dismiss as"virtue signalling", you can get stick for simply pointing out that Muslims in predominately Muslim countries are also victims of terrorist atrocities committed by ISIS. Think of the ISIS attack in Quetta, Pakistan that killed 61 people at a police academy on the 25th October 2016 or the 94 mourners killed on the 8th August 2016 when they had gathered at a Quetta hospital to mourn the death of their friend, 45 year old lawyer Bilal Anwar Kasi. Think of the Baghdad bombings on July 3rd 2016 which killed over 300 people and injured 221. ISIS, Al-Qaida and other Islamic terrorist organisations do not care whether they kill non-Muslims or those who identify with a form of Islam that doesn't align with their own. They are all "kuffars" or non-believers to them. So do Farage, Milo et al really believe that Muslims who are fleeing war zones to stop themselves being murdered by such terrorists are equally to blame for attacks in Europe and so should be feared by us? Should we fear Muslim migrants that come from Pakistan to work in our hospitals to care for our sick? Tell that to the families of those innocent citizens killed in Quetta who have lost loved ones as a result of the actions of misguided, evil people who tried using religion as a way of justifying their malicious acts. Why is it so hard for those on the far-right to accept that moderate Muslims are not to blame for the actions of those who profess themselves to be the "truly faithful followers of Islam?" The young Muslim shopkeeper who serves my Dad his cigarettes and lets me pay for my chocolate or my feminist Muslim friend from University who advocates for Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) to be mandatory in schools to help teach students about consent are not acting in the same way as deplorable ISIS terrorists who strike Christmas markets and music halls. To my friends, Islam is a "religion of peace" because the codes of behaviour they follow differ from that of the terrorists; they would never inflict harm or wish harm on their neighbours. I take them at their word.

That's why it's important for the "liberal luvvie elite" or any human being who considers themselves to be of decent character and sound mind to point out that not all refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants are potential terrorist recruits or actual terrorists who want to eradicate our "Christian" culture and "impose Sharia Law" on us with zero respect for equality and multiculturalism. Alt-Righters scoff rather prematurely and declare "multiculturalism to be dead" and applaud any Western Government who is considering a closed border immigration policy or a policy that involves direct discrimination against Muslims by requiring them to sign a register to record their entry into the UK and movements thereafter (if there is such a register it should include any migrant, asylum seeker or refugee coming into the country but when you say that the Alt-Right lose interest). To me it seems ironic that misguided ultra nationalists want us to segregate ourselves off from the world by pulling out of political unions such as the EU (whilst simultaneously berating trade unions for taking action against exploitation of workers in terms of Health and Safety or stagnating pay and conditions) and still expect the UK to act like "the best world leader" when it comes to helping resolve conflicts. It's a-OK for Kippers to say the UK should be best pals with anti-LGBT rights dictators like Putin and cray-cray narcissists like Trump but we should distance ourselves from Angela Merkel just because she decided to show an ounce of compassion and take in refugees and asylum seekers fleeing conflict zones to try and give them a more stable life in Germany. Yes her migration policy should have been staggered over a longer period and more effort should have been made to try and get other EU countries to take in a greater amount of refugees or there should have been a priority placed on bringing women, children and injured refugees into Germany first but at least her heart was in the right place. Mrs Merkel is not the "Devil Incarnate" who can be blamed for every European terrorist attack that has happened or will happen in the future. I don't fear for my life changing as a result of any immigration policy decision taken by a European leader alone. That would be pure jingoistic folly.

I refuse to live my life in fear.  I won't change the way I dress to appease those who believe gender neutral, non-binary, queer or trans people should not be able to wear what they want whilst in public because it "offends their eyes". As long as I'm covered in the right places, who cares? I refuse to stop wearing my crosses in public or to stop talking about my Lutheran Christian beliefs and values and how they may differ from other Christian interpretations of the Scripture. If you believe in freedom of expression whilst acting within the confines of the law you have nothing to worry about. I refuse to stop discussing why we need to be compassionate towards those who have lost much as a result of conflict in the Middle East. Most importantly of all with regards to this blogpost, I absolutely refuse to conflate the beliefs and views of most Muslim asylum seekers and refugees with those of Islamic terrorists. When refugees have literally fled to escape fundamentalist repressive belief systems with very little left after the long journeys they have made, should we not try and do everything we can to help them settle in the UK if they have been granted leave to stay by our Government? Migrants should be treated with respect and not be automatically regarded with suspicion. Not every migrant is a potential rapist or radical preacher or benefits scrounger. To think that they are would be against my own values. I guess that's because I am someone who believes in being hospitable and friendly. Perhaps I'm "misguided" or "too luvvie liberal" for modern tastes but I'm never going to change. Fear will not win out in my mind, no matter how many times someone claims I'll be "thrown off a building" in the future.

My view on Immigration policy....

I'm not adverse to looking at UK immigration policy to make sure it is fit for purpose. I'm yet to be convinced by those who want a complete closed door approach to immigration or by those who want to implement an Australian style points system. However, creating token quotas and targets for net migration doesn't seem to have done anything to allay the fears of those who feel migration has led to wage depression or extreme strain on public services. That withstanding, it's also important to look at refugee and migrant welfare. I believe we must ensure that any refugee, asylum seeker or migrant who is allowed to settle in the UK understands our basic legislation and about our culture and society. Norway has been putting on mandatory migrant classes since 2013 which teach men and women about European sexual norms and it seems to have been quite a success. I was very pleased to read about Mr Kelifa, the Muslim African asylum seeker in Stavanger who has finally learned that a husband can be accused of domestic violence under Norwegian law (something he had not thought were possible under his understanding of marriage), and realised that he needs to treat all women with respect, regardless of their choice of dress. You can read more about Norway's approach in the 2015 New York Times article here : http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/20/world/europe/norway-offers-migrants-a-lesson-in-how-to-treat-women.html?_r=0

A UK programme should include mandatory awareness training on the Equality Act (2010), so that refugees understand the need to respect differences and not be tempted to commit hate crime (either verbally or physically) and economic migrants should definitely have training on employment legislation so that they know their right to Statutory Sick Pay and Statutory Maternity/Paternity Pay if they are employed on a contract; this may prevent them from falling prey to unscrupulous agencies and gang masters in the first place. Yes this might cost the UK Government a fair amount to create and administer the system but it's clearly better to empower migrants with the knowledge they need to survive in the UK instead of expecting them to muddle along and "figure it out" as and when they choose to do so. It's important that everyone living in the UK knows that our society allows for freedom of expression but only within the boundaries of existing laws. When there is a custom practiced by anyone that is incompatible with UK legislation, such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), it should rightly be questioned and condemned. Any person condoning domestic violence and abuse, rape, hate crimes against Christians, Muslims, Jews or any other religious group, LGBTQ hate crime, ableism racism or sexism should be arrested and if found guilty, be punished accordingly. Religion cannot be used as an excuse for wilfully breaking the laws of the land and no council official, social worker, teacher, police officer, GP, activist, neighbour, friend or family member should ever feel afraid of speaking out against unlawful practices that they see occurring in their own communities. Trust is important in getting people to speak out willingly and I feel that UKIP supporters and people who espouse far-right views are extremely unwilling to exercise any kind of feelings of trust in those who are Muslim, especially if they happen to be refugees or first generation migrants. That lack of trust is very sad to see in our society.

We cannot unfairly target Muslims now just because the terrorists happen to adhere to a sort of ideology that can be sort of linked to Islam. Our approach has to be that any extremist person or group needs to be confronted and have their status in the UK considered accordingly. That's why I was quite surprised by the uproar created by far-right activists when Amber Rudd, the UK Home Secretary decided to proscribe the neo-Nazi group National Action because of comments they had made celebrating the actions of Thomas Mair, the far right extremist who murdered Jo Cox, Labour's MP for Batley and Spen. Regardless of those comments (which I shall not repeat here), the views and policies espoused by National Action should already have been found to have been inconsistent with current legislation. An example policy quoted from National Action was that they wanted to reintroduce Section 28, a policy which prohibited the "promotion of homosexuality in schools". This would mean there could be no openly LGBTQIA teachers or teaching assistants practicing in UK schools and schools wouldn't be able to design and deliver PSHE lessons which deal with LGBTQ relationships and identities. This type of direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender reassignment would violate our current Equality Act head on. Freedom of speech within our democracy may mean that you may have the right to utter despicable comments but that doesn't mean you shouldn't think there wouldn't be any consequences as a result of you freely uttering them. Words can inspire actions and it's not just Islamic terrorist organisations such as ISIS that inspire people to commit heinous acts, as the example of Jo Cox's murder has highlighted.

So yes, I support anyone who wants to seek refuge or asylum in the UK or live and work in the UK provided they will demonstrate compassion, tolerance and respect for our rule of law. The far-right activists have to accept that there are hundreds of thousands of hard working, law abiding migrants in the UK who are not trying to sabotage our way of life, who are not trying to be a drain on our resources and who are not "abusing our hospitality". If those migrants are working hard, contributing to our Government coffers, then I believe they should have fair access to in work benefits, regardless of how long they have been in the job for or whether they've come from the EU or from Commonwealth countries. That's called having a fair policy for all working people in the UK. The far-right and some conservative voters may not like that but it's what I believe to be fair.

Relying on blundering stereotypes and using exceptional cases to make people fear migrants just isn't on. In fact, it's deliberate misrepresentation. My Mum and Dad are migrants. My Irish Dad Ivan had a number of jobs over his 40 year career in logistics and he worked with gangs made up of workers from across the EU and beyond. My Norwegian-Swedish Mum Rita worked as a care assistant in a retirement home in Lincoln for over 17 years and she worked with Muslims as well as Christians who came from across the world and from a variety of backgrounds. They all contributed to the UK economy, paying taxes, abiding by the laws of the land and encouraging their children to aspire to a better life. That's why I worked hard at school, defied my detractors who thought having dyspraxia would hold me back from getting into any decent profession and went and attended the University of York, gaining a 2:1 degree in English and Philosophy. I thank my parents every day for the hard work they put in to make sure I did well. Yet my parents and their working class colleagues rarely got thanked by the far right politicians. My Dad and his gangs never got thanked for making sure the gas pipes were laid properly ready for people to use their gas ovens to cook their Turkey on Christmas Day. My Mum and her colleagues never got thanked by Mr Farage for caring for those who needed help to live with dignity in the final years of their lives; making sure they could enjoy the Festive period without worrying about not having their dressings changed. The social care system seems to only enter our national stream of consciousness when individual homes get canned for poor standards or when there is a lack of funding to keep the homes fully staffed. If right wing politicians spent more time showing appreciation for the positive contribution migrants have made to UK society and less time trying to dehumanise migrants and turn them into some unknown "Other" to be feared, aided by Islamophobic rhetoric then maybe efforts would be spent on looking at positive ways to bring down the need for economic migration -e.g. providing full bursaries for training British nurses (not taking them away and making them pay back loans), providing free Level 2 and 3 apprenticeship training to care workers (regardless of age or experience) and encouraging local British born young people to consider a career in agriculture. There definitely needs to be more funding allocated to rural areas to allow more GP surgeries and schools to remain open and a municipal public transport system with affordable fares wouldn't go amiss. Free English lessons should also be offered for the family members of migrant workers to help improve their chances of securing employment or even to help them gain the confidence they need to consider joining community groups so they have a social life away from the home. These are not patronising policy suggestions but practical solutions that would achieve far more than getting public officials to swear some kind of vacuous oath to "British Values" when all that's really needed is empowerment and trust in our doctors, nurses, teachers, council admin staff and social workers etc.

Conclusion:

Terrorist attacks are designed to make us fearful of the world we live in; the ISIS terrorist attacks are specifically designed to try and change mainstream public opinion in Western Europe to the point that we will routinely demonise innocent Muslim migrants and refugees so much that those migrants and refugees will willingly turn to ISIS for "protection" and "respect". We cannot let this happen. I have no interest in reviving a "Crusader" mentality, regardless of the fact that I am a Lutheran. I can only hope that others with my working class background will join me in rejecting fear and investing in hope for a more peaceful, compassionate world in 2017. There are practical measures we can take to reduce instances of radicalisation that do not involve patronising migrants and refugees but we must be brave enough to empower these migrants and refugees to speak out against unlawful practices and radical ideology. The way we do this is to let them know about the legal tools at their disposal. If we empower and inspire moderate challenges to fundamentalist ideologies whilst also easing public service pressures in communities that have experienced high levels of migration, with the reinstating of a Migrant Impact Fund, I believe we can turn the tide away from Islamophobic discourse and defuse the populist power exercised by those on the far right. Migration and Islamic terrorism seem to be intertwined and now is not the time to give up on the process of debunking stereotypes. So I say to activists on all sides of the debate: collaborate....improve the lives of all people in the UK...unite against the common enemy (terrorists) and let's choose hope over fear.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Praxing this Dyspraxing: My Experience of Dyspraxia

I guess I'm pretty lucky being able to write my blogpost in my own way. I never used to be so candid in my opinions unless I was called upon my Religious Studies tutor to proffer an analysis of Richard Dawkins' anti-God delusion or Thomas Aquinas's penchant for santictising life on an infinite scale. Forming grammatically correct sentences and choosing the right words to try and make an impact can be a struggle for ordinary journos but when you're dyspraxic, and mildly dyslexic, it can seem like a mammoth challenge that requires a mindset Maggie May herself would be proud of. What if your article doesn't meet the required standards for final publication? What if punters spot your grammatical mistakes and compare you to Donald Trump for not being a thorough enough self- proofreader? It's incredibly important for budding journalists, editors, playwrights and other fellow creatives to know that being dyspraxic and/or dyslexic won't preclude you from chasing a career with the national tabloids and broadsheets or to get your article published on Buzzfeed or Vox. Dyspraxic creatives don't possess "a lower level of intelligence" and aren't essentially "low energy" people who can't be trusted to meet newspaper deadlines; we just have different methods of working to  construct our pieces and we do our best to strive to meet or exceed expectations placed on us. Part of the problem stems from the fact that very few employers know fully about dyspraxia as a condition and the bitty knowledge they may have may come from perpetuated stereotypes that classify dyspraxic people as "clumsy", "unreliable" or "difficult to work with". I feel these attitudes need to be changed and the stereotypes decoded.

Here's my bulletpoint by bulletpoint short introduction to dyspraxia and a small insight into living and coping with the condition:
  • Dyspraxia, or Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) is a "condition that affects fine and/or gross motor coordination" (Dyspraxia Foundation: "About Dyspraxia").
  • There are different types of dyspraxia that have been identified by child psychologists in recent years:
    • Ideamotor dyspraxia is identified in children and adults who find it difficult to complete single-step motor tasks; so if a child finds it difficult to comb their hair or to say goodbye to anyone on a daily basis, they may have ideamotor dyspraxia.
    • Ideational dyspraxia is identified in children and adults who find it difficult to perform a sequence of movements that typically go together; so if your partner finds it difficult to remember how to make a bed or to brush their teeth even though you've  reminded them a 100 times, they may have ideational dyspraxia.
    • Oromotor dyspraxia is identified in children and adults who find it difficult to co-ordinate muscle movements of the mouth to pronounce words in a Standard English manner. Children may have speech that is slurred and difficult to understand because they are unable to enunciate.
    • Constructional dyspraxia is identified in children and adults who may find it harder to understand spatial relationships; if your Mum has trouble drawing geometric designs to help you with your homework or your brother finds it difficult to solve puzzles, they may have constructional dyspraxia.
  • Researchers are unsure what exactly causes dyspraxia; it may be caused by a genetic problem with nerve cells that send signals from the brain to muscle tissue. There are risk factors that may make it more likely a foetus might be born with dyspraxia, such as being born prematurely (before the 37th week), being born with a low birth weight (that was me!), or the mother excessively drinking or taking illegal drugs while pregnant.
  • Dyspraxia is a lifelong learning disability which has no cure. There are no pills I can take to suddenly make me able to write entirely legibly 100% of the time or to take away the cramp I get after a few hours of typing up my thoughts. It made me very upset when I was first told this after diagnosis aged 6 in 1994 but once I faced the fact that I'd never be an "average" child I became determined to try and learn how to cope with the motor control challenges that I was faced with. Before I was diagnosed I had already had intensive support to help with my initial speech and language development (I didn't decide to utter my first words until I was nearly 4 years old and only when prompted by a speech and language therapist) and I had to be taught how to hold a knife and fork properly, which took 6 months! I knew that I'd never be able to ride a bike so I always made sure that I had money for the bus to attend after school activities. I had trouble catching or kicking a ball but I was never a footballer wannabe...more of a Spice Girl wannabe. I guess my sexuality and gender differences helped rather than hindered me!
  • Back in the mid 1990s, dyspraxia was only just being talked about as a learning disability and few children and adults had been diagnosed with the condition let alone effective treatment being devised. I was extremely lucky to have had primary teachers who cared about me so much they wanted to find out why I was struggling with practical tasks. My dyspraxia diagnosis led to me getting a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) from my local authority (Lincolnshire) who paid for 1-1 physiotherapist sessions to help improve my motor skills. Mrs Searston was my physio for 4 years and I thank her every day for having helped me gain the control needed to grip a pen to write down my thoughts properly and to catch a ball without worrying about being hit in the face. When I broke my right arm falling off a rope slide aged 8 I had to re-learn how to write and how to hold a fork and knife and I'd have never got back to a satisfactory motor-skill level without extra lessons with Mrs Searston. Sadly very few primary school and secondary school pupils now have access to regular physio with a physiotherapist they get to know over a period of a few years within their own school environment. Dyspraxia is more than just being "clumsy" or not being able to cycle or catch a football. In fact there are dyspraxic people who can do both!
  • Being re-diagnosed as an adult whilst at University was awkward for me. Whilst I appreciated the need for the psychologist to test my spatial problem solving skills I did feel a bit silly having to create solutions using building blocks or remembering some random pieces of information from a passage talking about Rachel losing her umbrella on the train. The assessment itself was conducted calmly and I didn't feel nervous about completing the tasks. When I read the results of the assessment I was upset because the way it was written made me seem like a failure who'd never be able to cope with the challenges of advanced academic study or enter the world of work. I felt as if I'd not really made that much progress. However, it's very important that dyspraxic university students who have to be re-diagnosed remind themselves of what they had to achieve academically to get to university in the first place. I managed to achieve 5 A's at A Level and a B at AS Level to get into the University of York (a Russell Group University) to read English and Philosophy. All the hours I had spent on reading and re-reading novels, play scripts and poetry to make sure I understood the semantics and pragmatics of the texts, all the hours I had spent going through theories detailing 18th century atheistic and agnostic beliefs about God  and all the hours I had spent learning the intricacies of French and German grammar etc. matters. I earned my place at Uni, so why should I feel upset about an assessment which still proved that I had an exceptional awareness of general knowledge and a slightly higher than average reading ability? It's much better to accentuate the positives and realise there are some things that I cannot change. I'm never going to be a fantastic geometric drawer or builder and I'm not going to be the next Jess Ennis-Hill or Anton Du Beke but that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things!
So what are some of the effects of being dyspraxic?
  • Dyspraxia can affect a person's ability to structure sentences, paragraphs and to create a cohesive essay or article but dyspraxic students at university can achieve a 2:1 or First even in essay laden subjects like English Literature and Philosophy. I should know because I'm one of them! I managed to gain a 2:1 for my English and Philosophy degree from the University of York and I studied modules as diverse as "Gender and Identity from John Locke to Jane Austen" to "Philosophy of Art". There's something fantastically empowering about uncovering the stories of writers such as Fanny Burney and Aphra Behn who revelled in being "different from the norm" and I managed to decode themes and socio-historical context and write about them in the same way as my fellow English students. It's really about making sure you plan your essay comprehensively; make sure what you're hoping to cover paragraph-by-paragraph, plan your research and make sure to type up quotes needed for your essay to support your argument (make reference to the source in the footnotes of your essay and in the bibliography) and proofread your essay before you submit it, taking into account the word count quota and you'll be fine. The best thing to do is to choose primary texts that pip your interest and that you'll not tire of...that's why I chose to write my essays about Aphra Behn and Margaret Cavendish's satire and Iris Murdoch's treatment of absurd relationships with reference to Virtue Ethics theory and Aristotle.
  • Dyspraxia can make it difficult for a suffer to write substantive answers to essay questions in exam conditions because of fine motor control issues; rest time is vital to allow the hand to recover from the stress of having to concentrate on letter formation. Typing exam answers is certainly one way to get around the letter formation issue but time will still need to be given to rest the hand. As long as you have a valid diagnosis your personal Uni tutor should be able to negotiate this with exam invigilators.
  • Sometimes I do find myself repeating ideas and concepts when I'm writing texts or speaking in a debate. I know that I have a bank of lexis that I seem to fall back on and it can be a bit irksome for readers to keep seeing the same constructions. However, repetition isn't always a bad thing in speech as it can help to get  across the importance that you attach to your readers/viewers understanding key ideas and concepts that underpin your argument. Keep yourself in check by rehearsing speeches, editing where necessary and try and take account of register and tone.  Having an uncontrollable pitch can be a nightmare at times too but you can even use pitch to your advantage; it shows that you have character to your voice that very few would be able to copy. Try and read your audience to see how they react but if you can't, don't worry about it! It's the content of your speech and whether you can communicate your message across effectively that matters most!
  • I can be overly sensitive to light which means that I will type with the light off and blinds closed if I'm working on an essay or article during the day. I know that will be weird for friends to see but as I do it from home it doesn't really matter. I did used to do it whilst employed as an Accounts Assistant and I think that my colleagues used to think I was trying to get away with doing the minimal amount of data entry but they got used to seeing the room dark in the end. The reason why I worked on data entry alone is because I found constant chatter a bit distracting, especially when I was trying to finalise purchase ledger figures or complete the payroll. I wasn't being anti-social but I just tend to work faster in a quiet environment. When I did lighter tasks I didn't need complete radio silence and I did socialise with my colleagues during breaks and lunch time!
  • I am ambidextrous; I write with my right hand but touch type with my left hand. It never used to be that way but over the years I've found it easier to separate motor tasks and my coordination and typing speed seems to have increased as a result. 12 years ago my typing speed was around 30 words per minute (wpm) which is below average for an administrative/office based job; now I can type at 60 wpm on average with few spelling mistakes. So I say it's imperative to encourage a dyspraxic person to start using the laptop/computer in lessons across the National Curriculum, so that they can master the repetitive typing movements and get used to using spelling programmes to help them decode words and phrases they need to know in order to pass key exams. There's no reason why dyspraxic students can't take notes during a History lesson on Henry VIII and use the internet or dictionary to look up words they do not understand whilst the teacher is speaking. Allowing a student to take charge of their own learning empowers them and makes them more likely to take in and process the information they need to process to answer exam questions.
  • I used to find following a set of instructions accurately very difficult, especially if they were never written down. On average it takes me at least 3 minutes to get a sense of what's required of me in a physical task and the more instructions that are given to me in a short space of time, the harder it is to sequence them and remember them. This doesn't mean you've had a #BrainFail, it just means that you shouldn't be afraid to ask your tutor/manager to repeat the instructions a few times so that you can remember the sequence and perform it accurately. Also, I find it a good idea to avoid making the tea...I couldn't always remember how many sugars my colleagues wanted in their tea or coffee and my HR Manager never bothered to write the requests down. Luckily I had colleagues who were more than willing to make me a cuppa or two during the day and I never felt guilty about asking them, as I always remembered my Ps and Qs. Manners cost nothing, remember!
  • I do find I have a tendency of opting out of tasks that I find difficult but they usually tend to be physically based. I remember a HR exercise I took part in whilst employed as an Accounts Assistant in Lincoln and we were asked to become part of an assembly line helping to wire plugs. I was given the task of preparing the wires for insertion into the plug but I found it incredibly difficult to use the stripping tool and after 5 minutes of "umming and aahing" I gave up and decided to micro-manage the task to make sure the plugs were completed, including Quality Control checking. It turned out I was very good at motivating colleagues on the assembly but not so good at the Quality Control, which irked one of my colleagues, who called me useless. It can be a difficult HR situation to be involved in but the key to trying to defuse the situation was to explain why my dyspraxia had made it difficult for me to wire the plugs and how my lack of awareness of wiring plugs meant that I couldn't really Quality Control check efficiently. I don't think the colleague concerned was fully satisfied but the reality is that dyspraxia can limit a person's ability to complete physical tasks fully, even if they wanted to be an essential part of the team. Suffice to say I've not applied for engineering or electrician apprenticeships since I went through the HR simulation!
  • I have sometimes felt ashamed of "being different" to my peers but I realised that there isn't much merit in "trying to fit in" anyways. As long as you knuckle down, try and find your academic or vocational niche and treat your peers with compassion and kindness, that's all that really matters. I knew a dyspraxic guy at school, Jack, who was angry that his mates wouldn't let him play rugby after school because they saw him as a "liability" and the continued rejection led to him self harming through cutting his arms with whatever sharp object he could find. I only found out about it after Jack had been self-harming for 6 months; I remember coming to his house and waiting in the lounge. I needed the toilet so headed to the bathroom and as I was coming out of the toilet I saw Jack attempting to use a shard of broken glass to cut himself; Jack stopped when he saw me looking at him. I was horrified and convinced him to stop tell his Mum before he did it again. Later I realised that it must have been harder for Jack to accept his dyspraxia diagnosis because he'd been so outgoing and charismatic before he was diagnosed (he didn't find out until he was 14) and afterwards he felt that his friends were judging him and choosing to alienate him because they had researched videos of guys with dyspraxia and they were "stereotypically clumsy" and "always hurting themselves". I didn't know what to say to Jack to reassure him that most of his friends were not wanting to alienate him but to help him be safe but it took Jack a long time to regain his self-esteem. I count myself lucky that I never took comfort from self-harming but I'd be lying if I said there haven't been times in my life when I've considered myself worth-less than my non-dyspraxic friends. If you ever feel that you're not coping with the news that you have dyspraxia, I'd encourage you to go to your GP and ask to see a therapist. Cognitive behavioural therapy can really help you to talk through the problems that have arisen as a result of diagnosis so you can then help yourself to come up with coping strategies that can implemented at work- for example, if you find background noise distracting whilst doing admin work, you can ask your employer to consider moving you to a quieter space in the office, offer you noise cancelling headphones or think about a teleworking option that would allow you to work from home rather than in the office.
A few useful tips:
  • Think about using a calendar, keeping a diary to remember important dates and record key instructions that need to be memorised as they relate to tasks that need to be performed on a regular basis. For example, when I worked as a Bookkeeper I had to remember to access the Company Payroll on a monthly basis to make sure I had recorded my working hours correctly to get paid the right amount. I wrote down the instructions needed to access the program and after a few times of doing it I had committed it to memory. The diary was there as a crux in case I forgot the instructions and it made me feel confident that I'd never get into trouble for being inaccurate.
  • Learn how to use Microsoft Office competently by enrolling on the ECDL Extra and Advanced courses. Before I started on the Level 2 Microsoft Word course I only really knew how to perform basic computer tasks, such as writing an essay and inserting a picture from the Internet to illustrate an article. After I finished the Level 3 Microsoft Access course I felt so much more confident with using the Office Program, to the point that I knew that if an employer asked me to set up a database to keep track of debtors and creditors to their business and wanted weekly reports on changes in numbers being added to the database, I could process them without fretting about entering the wrong field or accidentally deleting a set of data without knowing how to retrieve it. This helped me tremendously when I went on to study the AAT Accountancy and Finance course at college because I knew that I had fine-tuned the computing skills I needed to achieve a pass when it came to using the accounting and payroll software. Sage Line 50 is pretty much the same as using a database inputting system so if you know how to use Access, you can master the Sage Accounts and Payroll system.
  • Ask your employer about flexi-time or teleworking arrangements if you're finding it hard to concentrate in the office. Sometimes a HR Manager will only be too happy to accommodate your needs as the freed up office space can be used by an apprentice.
  • If you are finding it difficult to get past the job search or interview stage, ask your Job Centre Advisor to get you on the Access To Work programme to help you with preparing for interviews and signposting you to local job clubs run by organisations such as the Sure Trust. You may also be eligible for an Access To Work grant, which is designed to help pay for practical support to help you start work or to set up a business (but is not for start-up costs e.g. paying for electricity). Practical support for dyspraxic people includes providing special equipment to help with structuring reports, paying the annual salary of a support worker or even disability awareness training for your colleagues so they better understand your condition.
  • Never talk yourself down. You are a wonderful person who deserves to succeed in life regardless of having dyspraxia. If Florence Welsh can start her own successful band and Daniel Radcliffe can overcome his self-esteem issues to become an extremely well known actor and "the face of Harry Potter", you can write the next script for a blockbuster or stand up in front of a crowd of strangers and deliver a kooky routine about being a dyspraxic person. Be compassionate towards others, be compassionate towards yourself and do everything you can to try and succeed in your chosen field (s). Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Don't be afraid to apply for a PR position or Accounts position even if you think you may not be "good enough" to get an interview despite having the qualifications needed to do the job. Be bold, be brave, be brilliant!

 

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Scraping for Nookings : More More More on the Lincolnshire Dialect

"Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes". Polonius, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 4, Line 92-3

It's great to see that my international blogging audience enjoys a bit of amateur dialectology when it involves good old fashioned humour and wit! So here's a few more Yellowbelly words and phrases for your delectation! 
A "Lickspittle" or Common House Boggart (Thanks to Catherine Cavendish)

  • Anker after =  If you are staring at the sapphire and diamond ring poking out of the window display of your local jewellers, your Yeller-Belly boyfriend may say you are "ankering after (lusting after) that slab of rock".
  • Backard = In the Victorian era, a middle class child who dropped their books on a regular basis or failed to grasp the "Three Rs" before the age of 7 or 8 would be referred to as "backard" or backward and banished to an asylum for incarnation thinly disguised as "treatment".
  • Boggart or Boggard = A hobgoblin with a malevolent nature. Bogles are the Fenland version of the boggard.
  • "Bunny in a blanket" is a bit like Lincolnshire's version of "toad in the hole"; it's a rabbit pie.
  • Clapperdatch = When politicians mention policies that won't necessarily affect Yellowbellies such as HS2, they could be accused of clapperdatch, or "worthless chatting".
  • Doggerybaw = Nonsense; something Donny "Wannabe Your Pressy" Trump knows a lot about. His chattering tweets against people he's never even met might show him off as a bit of a Doylem = Fool/Idiot!
  • Gallivanting = Young labourers would often visit neighbouring farms and indulge in harmless flirting with daughters of the farmer.
  • Gleg = If you've ever clocked your brother coming in at 5am in the morning claiming he's not had a few drinks at a friend's house post pub closing hours, then you'd look at him in a gleg way (slyly and with a bit of tuttery).
  • Gruft = When farm labourers came in from cultivating the harvest, their wives would often notice "a bit a gruft" or dirt on their skin and ask them to go into the tin bath to get clean before supper.
  • Hackering = So you know Julian Assange and his trigger-happy hacking WikiLeaks crowd. Well in Lincs dialect their act of gaining access illegally into government database could be confused as an act of "Stammering" across the information.
  • Harr = Sea mist (down Grimsby way) that usually occurs between April and September due to the warm air passing over the cold North Sea.  
  • Hobby-herse = Lincolnshire is full of dragonflies during the summer season and children would notice them hopping about across the lakes and streams, hence their nick name "hobby-herse".
Funky Hobby-herse strutting his stuff in a Lincs field
  • Holler = If a farmer wanted to get the attention of his son from across the field to remind him to milk the cow to get ready for butter churning, he'd holler to him. These days you're more likely to holla at your bud to ask them to get a round in after you've bought the last 3 rounds in!
  • Jabber = During WWII, there was a famous "Careless talk costs lives" poster campaign splattered across the streets of Lincoln. My Great Great Uncle Edwin, my adopted Grandma's stern Great Uncle would always say to passers by who were talking aimlessly that they needed to "stop their jabbering". Jabber is essentially senseless or careless talk. 
  • Jiffling = Opening presents on Christmas morning you have to be careful not to be heard jiffling about or your parents might tell you off and give you coal instead of chocolate coins and candy canes!
  • Kelch =Grandma can remember her Great Uncle Edwin kelching down the stairs after a night of drinking whisky very near to Christmas. He'd tripped on a toy that'd been left by her brother George which the maid had forgotten to put away. Edwin had such a violent fall that he was hospitalised for 3 months. Grandma never touched a drop of alcohol after witnessing Edwin's accident. She said that her mother always said that if Edwin had bought any whisky from the shop that he'd been buying "Peeve" which was her pet peeve. In parts of Lincolnshire, Peeve referred to any form of alcohol but mostly beer because that's what working class men mostly drank when at the pub. Edwin just had expensive tastes.
  • Maungey = If you forget to wash the dog before your grandparents come to visit, they may say that your dog looks maungey or unkept! Better get the dog swilled (washed)!
  • Mosker = Too many churches and stately homes were left to mosker or decay in Lincolnshire until organisations such as the National Trust stepped in and saved them from ruin.
  • Nookings = My Mum's often looking for her keys at the nookings or bottom side of her handbag!
  • Petty = A Yellowbellow name for the Privvy or toilet! Grandma told me that her mother thought that the term "Petty" was vulgar and that they should refer to the toilet as a "vin". If Grandma ever needed to ask to go to visit the toilet at a friend's house, she had to say that she needed to "powder her nose" so as to not offend her hosts! When visiting a grand house in Surrey Grandma forgot once and asked the master of the house if she could "visit the loo" which made his wife gasp and her mother frown. She lost her desserts for a week as punishment for impropriety!
Typical Lincs Petty
  • Pottle=Small pot/ tankard (comes from Middle English) Also refers to a person that is small or cute!
  • Scrimmage = Labourers would often scrimmage with each other to try and win favour with the local farmer's daughter. The fight would be lighthearted but there would be occasional bloody noses and cut lips. Today the only real scrimmage you'd see happen is at the January sales!
  • Smouch = Planting a smacker or smouch on your boyfriend or girlfriend or partner under the mistletoe at Christmas is still a fairly popular tradition in the UK.
  • Teem= When coming back from the Christmas sales, make sure you teem (unload) the car carefully otherwise your glitter bodycon dress that you picked to pull your rugby playing boss on NYE might get scuffed up.  
  • Thrave = When studying English accents and dialects as part of an A Level English Language course, you must thrave yourself to go out into your local village/town/city and record dialogue in action. That way you'll hone the skills you learned whilst in class!
  • Titivate = On Sundays it was imperative that everyone dressed up ready to attend church. Even labourers would buy a suit to be their "Sunday Best" so they didn't embarrass themselves by having a shoddy appearance when being observed in the pew by Rector Smith. "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" was a popular saying used to remind people to titivate (make themselves look proper).
  • Tuvla = Cigarette ...any brand that happened to be smoked whilst in the presence of friends and colleagues alike.
  • Twag = Even when schooling became compulsory up to the age of 10 in the 1880's children were encouraged to twag from school to help their parents bring in the harvest. Making sure there was enough food in to survive the winter was seen as more important as being able to read and write. Gradually attitudes began to change and by the 1920s instances of twagging at Harvest time were minimal.
  • Varmit =  Grandma said that you must be careful to clean up left over crumbs in the kitchen or it'd attract the Varmit (Vermin) in.
Finally, three interesting phrases:
  • "You may as well pee in yer ear as do that" = Something that was a waste of time or ineffectual.
  • "He couldn't hit a barn door with a snowball" = Somebody who was a bad shot.
  • "It's like trying to push smoke up a donkey’s a**e with a knitting needle" = An impossible task.

 

Friday, 9 December 2016

Are Labour facing an "existential crisis" in Lincolnshire? What can they do about it?

The results of the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election are in and as I suspected, the Conservatives managed to hold onto their majority in the constituency. In fact, they managed to increase their majority by 1.1% despite the turnout being a measly 37.1%. It was winter and it rained on and off during the day but blaming weather conditions for a low turnout kind of ignores an issue we may have with voter engagement following the divisive EU Referendum campaign earlier in the year. I've spoken to 1 voter (Richard) in North Hykeham who said he wouldn't vote yesterday because he thought the by-election campaigns were too Brexitcentric: "calling voters Remoaners and Brexiteers is just childish. The main party candidates didn't convince me that they'd stopped playing on the divides in a vain effort to gain extremist votes so why should I vote for someone who isn't inspiring any level of collaboration". I asked Richard whether he'd consider voting for an Independent candidate but he wasn't convinced...he said that voting away from the main parties would be a wasted vote and a waste of his time. At least Richard was honest with me!

Part of the reason why Dr Johnson won last  night is because she came across as a "safe pair of hands" candidate; someone who wouldn't rock the boat too much in Brexit negotiations but supports the Government's position wholeheartedly. UKIP had tried to slander Dr Johnson by making out she wasn't a "true Brexiteer" because she had "indicated support for the UK to remain in the Single Market" but quite clearly voters in the area thought that it was better to follow the Government's line and trust that they could deliver a plan that would please most voters regardless of how they voted in the EU Referendum. Dr Johnson came across well when it came to 1-1 voter engagement in villages across the constituency. After all, it wasn't just about Sleaford! Another reason why Caroline won was because she seemed to have clear policies when it came to improving transport infrastructure and was willing to work with fellow Conservative MPs such as Karl McCartney to future funding for the area. That coupled with Parliament's recent vote to trigger Article 50 by the 31st March 2017 and having a strong network of councillors in the outlying villages surrounding Sleaford bolstered the vote. Of course that has led to quips that anyone or anything with a blue rosette could win the election is disappointing but such simple responses to the by-election result doesn't do any politico any favours. Especially if the politico happens to be sympathetic to the Labour party's platform.

There's no getting away from it. Labour did appallingly in Sleaford and North Hykeham compared with just a year ago. Under Ed Miliband Labour managed to come 2nd in the constituency with 17.3% of the vote; last night Corbyn's Labour candidate Jim Clarke came 4th with a vote share of just 10.2%. Labour managed to keep their deposit but with the party being beaten by a passionate resurgent local Lib Dem party that managed to gain on actual votes and voter share and a UKIP party that had a candidate with ties to the National Front and a history of outspoken xenophobic attitudes towards  EU migrants and asylum seekers (telling the Govt to "send them back" in 2008) questions have now got to be asked about Labour's credibility in rural Midland areas. Just to think that Labour had a voter share percentage of 34.3% only 20 years ago shows how much confidence in the party has declined in Lincolnshire.

The reason why it matters that Labour came 4th in the by-election  is not because Labour had a chance of taking the Sleaford and North Hykeham seat (it's been solidly Conservative since its creation in 1997) but because Labour has a real chance of taking back Lincoln, the constituency immediately bordering Sleaford and NH. The Lincoln constituency happens to contain a number of rural villages, such as Skellingthorpe and according to plans drawn up by the Boundary Commission, North Hykeham may be incorporated into the Lincoln seat for the next GE expected to be held in 2020. If that is to be the case, Labour needs to understand the specific needs of North Hykeham voters if they are to turn them away from the Lib Dems and Conservatives.

I recently read Owen Jones's article that looked at the possible crisis Labour is facing in Northern England, Wales and Scotland: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/01/labour-would-save-the-nhs-but-the-nhs-wont-save-labour. I believe some of the observations I made from the article pertain to an analysis of Labour's existential crisis in Lincolnshire, especially amongst white working class voters such as myself. Here are my thoughts below:
  • Owen mentions pollster's Ian Warren's two groups of voters who would "never vote Tory": white blue collar workers, over 40 who Warren classes as "relatively politically engaged" non-graduates from Wales, Northern England or the Midlands and "Generation Renters" who are usually under 40 but rely on private rental market or are in social housing and feel disfranchised from voting in the "Establishment" electoral system in the first place. Some of these voters will have used foodbanks to feed their children; some will have had to make a choice between food and heat/light and some will have had direct experience of Payday loan rip-offs or even door-to-door loan shark intimidation. Both groups of voters are looking for changes to their quality of life and they want more than lip service from their representatives as to how the Government will help to enact this change.

  • Political tribalism is slowly being eroded away from Northern English regions and from Wales and the Labour Leadership should be rightly concerned that the base they felt they were "entitled" to keep hold of no longer have the blind faith in the Labour party at a local, regional and/or national level that they may once have had. Social media platforms and more transparency access to government plans and documents at a local and national level means that potential voters are now far more aware of political issues affecting their own constituencies and do have the choice as to whether to compare their MPs voting record or comments made through the media with those of their opponents to decide whether their MP is dealing with local issues in an appropriate way. Naturally not every voter has the time or inclination to do this so PR marketing can still help to sway votes to one party or another, provided the messages contained within are concise and effective-i.e. they focus on issues and policies that the electorate care about. Jeremy Corbyn's 10 point plan that he introduced during his second Leadership campaign in the Summer of 2016 is an example of effective PR strategy but Corbyn has to follow through by talking about specific points raised to show a sense of cohesive message. Organising national days of action is one way to highlight awareness and I'm impressed by Corbyn's ability to organise them when it comes to defending Comprehensive Education or the NHS but the odd day of action here and there won't change minds in the long term.  

  • The hardest to reach members of the electorate are those who feel that their lives won't improve regardless of whichever major party happens to be in power. Major parties for them are Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The reason why commentators hear of online tweeters calling members of the Labour party "Red Tory" or members of the Conservative party "Remoaner Traitors" is because these tweeters believe there are too many MPs/commentators who are members of Labour/Conservatives/Lib Dems who represent the centre ground in politics and they see the general convergence in views on immigration as evidence of them being complicit members of the political"Establishment" who need to be thrown out of power. Establishment MPs are "happy to let the working class people rot" because an unequal system benefits them. Of course there are major differences between millionaires and former social workers/domestic violence campaigners becoming MPs but if their views are seen as "too similar", voters who want a radical change will want to get rid of them regardless of their background.  Such proliferation of types of vitriolic online comments can put off potential voters from voting at all because they believe the system is literally too "rigged against them" in favour of London and the South East and voters who share "Establishment values" in the North and Wales. UKIP party members attempt to tap into feelings of inequality, especially amongst white working class voters and suggesting the only way to shake up the electoral system would be by voting UKIP.

  • I've spoken with a number of Millennials in North Hykeham and Lincoln who are currently unemployed or in low-wage part time work who chose to vote UKIP in yesterday's by-election. I'd never contemplate voting for a party with a reputation for being vehemently anti- asylum seeker, anti refugee and anti-immigration (as well as a lukewarm approach to LGBTQIA issues and almost no policy on improving trans rights) but I wanted to know what drove them to pluck for Victoria Ayling instead of Labour's Jim Clarke.

      • Sara, a part time waitress with 2 young children living in North Hykeham said to me: "Why should I vote Labour or Tory or Lib Dem? My situation never gets any better when I vote for them. Rents here in NH are still high and the NLW doesn't pay enough to help me save up for a deposit. I want to own my own home but I can't find full time work in the area.  Nobody speaks up for people like me. I didn't trust the local Tory MP (Stephen Phillips) and I don't trust in Dr Caroline Johnson either. All the Tories ever talk about is transportation and Brexit." Sara was talking about former local MP Stephen Phillips, who happened to be a virulent Brexiteer and even though Sara voted to Leave the UK, she didn't trust in the Tories to improve raise her standard of living. Sara could have voted Labour because she cares about workers' rights, increasing the NLW and tackling high rents. Yet Sara  said that UKIP were the only real party who are non-Establishment: "I want someone who won't lie to us and sugarcoat bad news. Immigrants have got more work than British born young people. Why can't the main parties candidates see that? I think if we reduce the numbers coming into Lincolnshire from the EU then employers might start being forced to recruit in North Hykeham and then maybe I'd get full time pay". Sara may be a bit of a wishful thinker here but there were plenty of voters in Sleaford and North Hykeham who turned away from Labour because Jim Clarke didn't tackle this mistaken view that migrants steal jobs from British citizens and that employers almost always deliberately choose to hire from EU countries first to deny Lincs born workers full time wages. Some may do this but not every employer is guilty of it. Labour needs to talk about the benefits of immigration to the local economy as well as promising to crack down on any employers who discriminate in their recruitment and selection practices so employers do look in the local area for their talent. Labour also needs to show how a crackdown on bad employer practices will help  prevent exploitation of migrant labour because the party should be concerned for the welfare of all working class people in Lincs, not just Yellowbellies
      • William, an unemployed 20 year old from Lincoln told me he wouldn't vote Labour again until they put up an inspiring candidate who'd be willing to address issues concerning immigration into the local area.  "I don't know what Labour were thinking when they let Eastern Europeans flood the country like have done over the past decade. Companies seem to be hiring more Romanian and Bulgarian builders and they can't even speak English. Why can't they give me a chance....I have a GCSE grade C in English like employers ask for but when I apply for jobs the employers don't want to know." According to the Annual Population Survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics in 2014, the number of people who had not been born in the UK in Lincoln was 16%, which is actually higher than the percentage in the Boston area (which contains the constituency with the highest Leave vote in the country) at 15%. So I wasn't particularly surprised that British born people in Lincoln expressed opinions regarding immigration levels in the area without having to refer to Boston. I don't detect any malice, any wish to punish EU nationals from daring to move into the area, it was more a frustration with the current Conservative government and the previous Coalition government for not reaching their targets RE non-EU and EU migration that were actually set by Theresa May whilst she was Home Secretary.
      • Jim, a 23 year old electrician who lives in my ward of Birchwood told me that he'd only ever vote UKIP now because Labour has been slow in coming up with an alternative to the immigration policies put in place by the Conservatives. His parents both voted to Leave the EU without much hesitation and both have been Labour supporters throughout their adult lives. Yet Jim revealed that many of his parents' friends no longer bothered to vote because neither Labour nor the Conservatives have increased the NLW to an appropriate level for them to live on. And because living standards haven't improved and the economic recovery hasn't stretched to certain communities it has caused an element of discord and a fear of "being left behind". That fear leads some to blame the situation on immigration. Yet there are EU immigrants who have settled in Lincoln, set up businesses and are paying their fair share of taxes as well as employing local British-born working class people in their businesses. I doubt that Leave voters would want to throw these hard workers out of the country based on their nationality or citizenship. It's about raising awareness of the benefits of immigration as well as talking about the Migrant Impact Fund to help address concerns over public service pressures. It's about talking about the missed targets for non EU migration reduction by May and the Home Office during her tenure. As Owen Jones says, Labour parties across the UK should be holding public meetings in village halls, community centres, libraries to openly discuss immigration in a balanced manner, taking on board the concerns of voters and asking them how Labour could "do Brexit differently", if Brexit is required at all. Some Labour votes will be pretty much against Brexit, so Labour has to address their concerns whilst listening to those who voted to Leave. It's a very fine balancing act.
    Labour's Crisis: Issues:

    NHS:
    Labour wins voters over on the NHS. The NHS isn't a battleground issue that many voters in Lincoln, Boston, Grantham, Sleaford and North Hykeham, need to be convinced on by Labour but I feel Labour candidates need to talk in more detail about specific local NHS issues. Ambulance response times in Lincolnshire under EMAS are woeful, patients are waiting longer for essential operations and GP surgeries are under the threat of closure due to lack of adequate staffing. It has been revealed that the GP surgery in Metheringham will be closed, with 1,580 patients needing to be found a new surgery without having to travel 5-10 miles in the car (especially as some residents do not have direct access to a car). Remaining GP surgeries may become over-stretched with patients waiting longer to be seen for minor ailments, which could prompt more of them to attend A&Es in Lincoln and Grantham. Grantham A&E remains closed overnight, putting pressure on Lincoln County Hospital to treat emergency cases and as I've mentioned in a previous blogpost, there are plans afoot to try and close the A&E there by downgrading it to an Urgent Care Centre. Labour needs to oppose the proposed United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) openly if it is to retain voters.  Labour also needs to talk about more than "throwing money at the NHS"; they need to show how the extra funding they are seeking would be spent- whether it would be on improving access to Mental Health Services for young residents or increasing funding for the number of nurses training places in Lincolnshire, restoring the bursary for nurses so they do not need to pay back loans once they are working hard in Lincs hospitals.  Local Labour candidates need to talk about key party policies such as ending Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts that suck money away from frontline services and lead to "privatisation by the back door", something that Jeremy Corbyn is keenly opposed to. Labour voters need to see the connection between local policy ideas and national policy ideas otherwise they won't vote!

    Welfare Reform:
    I can understand voter concerns on the welfare system. Most Corbyn supporters are concerned about the erosion of the welfare system; the Tories to them appear to lack compassion for the most vulnerable in society and most voters want to protect them from falling into a trap of poverty. That being said, voters in Lincs are sympathetic to the idea of welfare reform; it has to be run efficiently and fairly so as to not "waste taxpayers money". Some in Lincs believe the only way of doing this is by denying in work benefits to recent EU migrants for at least a few years as well as denying EU migrants out of work benefits (such as JSA) if they happen to lose their job within a few years. To me this seems harsh; migrants may lose their job for any number of reasons (illness, staff cuts) and if they happen to have made the effort to get a job in the first place, they should be afforded the same protections as British citizens (I'd also extend the same benefits to non-EU citizens to make sure they do not become destitute). Voters want to see the Government act with a certain amount of compassion. I'm against and against cuts to disability benefits. Nobody that is capable of finding work should be left to rot and be subjected to months or years of economic inactivity which often happens through no real fault of their own, especially if they happen to be disabled or from an ethnic minority. However I think most working class voters do understand and believe in improving the rights of all people in the UK as long as a convincing case can be made to them. They just want to feel more involved in the decision making process. So Labour has to commit to being transparent and accountable to the electorate when it comes to deciding how they would spend taxpayers money to fund benefits.

    Immigration:
    Labour candidates need to engage more positively and openly with its working class voters when it comes to discussing immigration reform. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott is right to say that there is a need to debunk the myth that Labour operated an open door immigration policy; membership of the EU in recent years has meant there had to be an acceptance of its freedom of movement principle but there was no deliberate attempt by Labour to encourage high levels of immigration into the UK. Eurosceptics have said that Labour are to blame for the influx of EU migrants because they did not advocate for restrictions into the numbers of Poles being allowed to come and work in the UK for the first year after Poland joined the EU in 2004. The increase in immigration following the enlargement of the EU was unforeseen and I think that border controls guards and immigration administrative personnel should have been increased in the years following Poland's entry into the EU so that there was better monitoring of numbers.

    Labour tried to mitigate the effects of immigration on public services by providing a Migrant Impact Fund, which Corbyn wants to re-establish should he become PM. The fund would be created by introducing modest surcharges on immigration visas, not increasing income tax and would help fund more teaching assistants, more nurses and more GPs in areas such as Boston and Skegness. If more voters knew that the MIF would not cost taxpayers a penny and would help fund more local public services, they may be more support on the doorstep for Corbyn's approach to immigration. He is right to suggest that arbitrary targets dreamt up by Theresa May, current Home Secretary Amber Rudd et al for net immigration post-Brexit are doomed to fail. The focus as Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has noted should be on upskilling the local population to ensure current skills gaps identified by local SMEs can be addressed without the need to source labour from abroad. Also there has to be an attempt to prosecute agencies and employers who exploit migrant labour by paying them below the National Living Wage and denying them workers rights. If employers realise they must pay the NLW and adhere to the regulations such as making sure workers have access to adequate health care and food preparation facilities, they may be more likely to look for workers from their local area. Again it may seem that Labour are a bit "wishy washy" on promising definitive reforms but at least it is a step in the right direction!

    Education:
    Whilst there are no grammar schools in the City of Lincoln itself, there are a number dotted across Lincs. It is important therefore that any Labour candidate who stands for election in Lincs shows that they appreciate the work done by all schools in their potential constituency to help students pass key exams and prepare them for their working lives. Labour may oppose Theresa May's plan which seems to favour funding for grammar schools over comprehensive ones but candidates need to tell potential voters what a Labour Government would focus on to improve attainment outcomes, especially for SEN pupils in mainstream schools and working class boys who seem to have been left behind in real years.

    Jeremy Corbyn's position seems to be that he wants to create a "national education service" designed to provide learning opportunities "from cradle to grave". Corbyn's a critic of forced academisation because he believes there is no evidence to suggest turning comprehensives into academies helps to improve educational performance and it sounds like he would bring all academics back under local authority control. Local Labour candidates would need to think carefully about whether they agreed with this position. Corbyn also states that he wants to reduce class sizes to under 30, abolish charitable status for private and public schools, abolish tuition fees and reinstating the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) funding EMAs by increasing corporation tax by 1.5% . Corbyn also wants to fund more adult learning courses such as ESOL for migrants by increasing corporation tax by 2%.  I'd say that reinstating EMA is achievable and would be broadly popular with working class rural voters but they would be sceptical about Corbyn's other policies; they seem too good to be true!

    A recent education policy announced by Corbyn was the creation of an Arts Premium for every primary school child in England, an extra £160m of funding to allow working class children an opportunity to learn a musical instrument or engage in more painting/sculpting activities. Whilst I'm glad to see Corbyn take an interest in promoting the need to allow children to develop their creative skills to help shape their social skills, it isn't at the forefront of most voters' minds. Labour do need to make sure they also focus on promoting STEM subjects in schools, ensure that there are enough qualified teachers to deliver a strong curriculum that will allow all students regardless of gender, ability level or social background to achieve their best and ensure that teachers feel able to carry on working within the profession 5 years after they qualify by offering further training and development opportunities and opportunities for promotion. If voters can see that their local Labour candidate values the contribution that all teachers make towards improving educational attainment, they may be more likely to vote for them at a GE.

    Transportation:
    Labour now seems committed to full scale re-nationalisation of the railways. Quite how this will happen is open to interpretation. Jim Clarke said in an interview with The Lincolnite that it should happen gradually- as each contract ends the Government takes on the responsibility for running train services for the region. I've not heard any MP completely express Labour's transport position to the electorate in plain, clear language so no wonder voters didn't know whether to take Mr Clarke at his word on this. Voters do care about upgrading railway lines to help reduce travel time, upgrade rolling stock so nobody travels in an unsafe carriage and reduce ticket prices to make it more affordable for rural working class graduates to consider entry level posts outside of their area. On the Jeremy Corbyn 4 Labour website, Corbyn claims that nationalisation will allow ticket prices to be cut by 10% yet Labour's local candidate did not even quote this figure in a discussion over transport infrastructure! If Labour is to convince voters that renationalisation of the railways is a good idea, candidates need to point to the example of East Coast which helped deliver £1bn in funding for the Treasury and consistently kept rail fares down until it was reprivatized under the Coalition Government. It may only be one example but it is not talked about enough at the grassroots level.

    Corbyn also talks about setting up municipal bus companies that would be run by local councils who can provide more rural bus services for residents who rely on public transport to visit their friends and relatives or do their banking in person. He says that he will provide funding for this by unlocking £500m every year. Voters in Sleaford and North Hykeham talked about the lack of regular bus services between villages and Sleaford and Lincoln and they would appreciate any attempt to increase their services provided that it was deliverable. I do wonder if Mr Clarke had talked about this policy on the doorstep he might have done better with voters?!


    Law And Order:
    Voters in Lincolnshire are deeply concerned about crime rates in the countryside; the county has the highest rates of rural crime than anywhere else in England; rural crime cost farmers more than £2.4m in 2015. Thefts of Quad Bikes, combine harvesters and livestock are mostly covered by agricultural insurance but this only pushes up premiums for all farmers in the Lincs area at a time when farmers are struggling to keep their farms operational in a globally competitive market. Residents in villages such as Ruskington and Osbournby worry about their safety at night with the increasing number of street lights being turned off by the County Council so are naturally concerned about the visible decline in police presence.  A vote winner for UKIP on the doorsteps of Sleaford and North Hykeham was the promise of more "bobbies on the beat" and advocating for increased funding from Government to fund more rural crime units to keep farmers and villagers safe. Labour at a national level needs to talk tough on rural crime to show that it is committed to protecting farmers. At a local level, Labour candidates need to go beyond talking about funding issues ( voters know that funding cuts have led to at least a 10% cut in police officer numbers and 7% cut in PCSOs since the Tories came to power in 2010). Candidates need to question the way policing issues are being handled by the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner, Marc Jones;  for example, should Labour oppose the G4S contract that was negotiated by Lincs Police 2012 when it comes up for renewal? If Labour under Corbyn are opposed to privatisation of public services in general, this seems obvious! Should Labour be asking that PCSOs be more involved in tackling speeding crimes and rural crimes, being able to issue penalty notices to troublemakers within their own communities?

    Conclusion:

    Whilst it is important to keep voters on side RE the NHS, voters need other reasons to turn out and vote for the Labour party. To find out which issues matter to local residents, Labour grassroots members have to continue to knock on doors, organising meetings in community centres, libraries and WIs across Lincolnshire. Labour campaigning cannot just be done online via social media, via articles from activists or relying on Momentum or Progress to take ownership of voter engagement. All "wings" of the Labour party, especially UKIP-Labour and Conservative-Labour converts (if they are even allowed back into the party) should be involved. Voters want contact with their local political parties for more than 5 minutes on a doorstep on a Wednesday morning before an election. Voters in Lincolnshire want to feel that their voices are being heard by "those that matter". Getting more Labour candidates into parish/district councils in Lincolnshire's rural heartlands is key to developing voter engagement strategies. If you don't have a strong, sustained base of support that willingly votes to increase Labour representation at a local level, you're not going to motivate them to go to the polls to vote for a Labour MP at a general election. So those wanting to be Labour candidates have to come from the local area, involve themselves willingly by going out and asking their friends and neighbours for their thoughts and opinions and be prepared to answer any difficult questions that may arise. Be prepared to differ from the Labour leadership but be prepared to give your reasons why you disagree with them on specific policies. Show awareness of Labour's key policies in the first place!