Thursday, 29 September 2016

Dissecting Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Conference Speech 2016: The Verdict From 4 Lincoln Key Voters.

“One lesson is, that there is a responsibility on all of us to take care with our rhetoric, respect democratic decisions, respect our differences and respect each other”.  Jeremy Corbyn, Labour 2016 Conference Speech, Liverpool, 28/09/2016.

Jeremy Corbyn's speech was widely anticipated to be of epic "Likey or No Lighty" proportions prior to delivery yesterday. Most Conservatives had already written him off as "low energy", a "magic money tree socialist" who had no desire to grapple with the key societal and economic pressures facing the UK today, instead receding back to a "simpler time" when trade union shop stewards could bring the country to a standstill with the flickering of power switches. Many within the Labour party were questioning whether his tone and stance on anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and immigrants would be appropriate to help sell him as the "unity candidate" post a divisive, corrosive leadership contest. It was surprising (and quite gratifying) to see Jeremy deliver a powerful, passionate speech which addressed his critics whilst not stooping to name calling, which set out a plan for a "21st century kind of socialism" whilst recognising he has "an electoral mountain to climb" if Labour is to win the next General Election under his leadership: "The central task of the Labour party, must be to rebuild trust and support to win the next general election..." even if the Labour party is "about campaigning and it's about protest too.” Critics of the speech claim Jeremy didn't touch enough on policies that could convince swing voters to put the X on the ballot box for Labour. I wanted to test this out, so I invited 4 Lincoln based voters who hadn't watched Jeremy Corbyn deliver his speech in the afternoon to come and watch his speech and read a transcript of it in the evening so they could offer their thoughts on some of the policy statements Jeremy touched on. Lincoln matters because it is a very close marginal or bellwether seat, currently held by the Conservatives under Karl McCartney, which Labour would need to win should they wish to gain power at Westminster. Lincoln also happens to be the oldest constituency in the UK but this hardly ever gets mentioned by pollsters.

I'm going to compare this report on Jeremy Corbyn's speech with one on Theresa May's speech at the Conservative conference in Birmingham next week to see which policies are enthusing or disengaging certain voters in Lincoln. I hope my blog readers find the responses as interesting as I found them!

Location: Birchwood Ward, Lincoln, Lincolnshire.
Date: 28/09/2016.
Panel: No party members just "ordinary" voters:
Voter A:  Accounts Assistant, Female, 24, Labour voter.
Voter B: Self-Employed Graphic Designer, Male, 32, swing voter considering Labour (voted UKIP at GE 2015).
Voter C: Business owner, Male, 67, Conservative voter.
Voter D: Nurse (in care home), Female, 48,  swing voter considering Labour or WEP at next GE.


Policy statements:
Voter A
Voter B
Voter C
Voter D
Labour will, as Teresa Pearce said, build over a million new homes at least half of them council houses. Labour will remove the artificial local borrowing cap and allow councils to borrow against their housing stock....to build an extra 60,000 council houses a year.”
Great idea but is it practical in the long term? How many councils would consider borrowing against their existing stock? Would 60,000 council houses end up getting built? Who would be given most priority on the housing list...would disabled/elderly people be given appropriate housing- e.g. Ground floor bungalows
for wheelchair users/ stairlifts for those with knee problems?
Why do we need to focus on council houses that will only get flogged off in the next round of Help-To-Buy/ Thatcheresque policies 20 years down the line? Would the new council houses be given to native Yellowbellies or migrant families first? Corbyn hasn't really said anything about the migrant impact on housing stock.
I bought my own home after saving up for 20 years; I couldn't have holidays or new mobile phones every year. So how does this policy benefit me?
Agree with Jeremy and Teresa on their council housing policy; we haven't build enough homes and it's time for a mass building programme to ease pressure on local housing stock. I wonder if City of Lincoln council or Lincs County Council would ever take Corbyn up on this offer if he was elected, though?
We will raise the minimum wage to a real living wage (£10 per hour) that brings working people out of poverty.”
As an Accounts Assistant on the current Conservative NLW, this would really benefit me. It'd allow me to save up a deposit for my first home and pay my bills on time without having to rely on an overdraft. If you work hard you deserve to be paid well.
I'd need to see whether local SMEs would be able to pay a £10 an hour wage to their cleaners/ admin assistants whilst still trying to maintain a working profit. As a freelancer I'd love to be earning £10 an hour but I know it's not practical.
Everyone deserves to be paid a decent wage for the work they do but I don't know whether cleaners should be paid the same wage as office staff though. Different skills?
I work hard every day as a nurse in a care home and I feel undervalued and underpaid for the work that I do despite receiving more than the NLW. £10 an hour would be a real boost to productivity and improve worker motivation in workplaces such as care homes.
Labour councils increasingly have a policy of in-house as the preferred provider...e.g. bin collections, cleaners and IT services being brought back in-house. “
Councils should be in charge of the services they provide; the recent Serco debacle surrounding incorrect wages being paid to school staff in Lincolnshire shows the folly of outsourcing for the sake of “saving money”.
I thought councils were still responsible for bin collecting/ cleaning up the streets. If not, they should stop outsourcing these jobs. Serco needs to improve their quality standards; give them time to do this.
I think councils should be responsible for most services but if better IT services are best monitored by experienced professionals not directly employed by the council, then returning to in-sourcing might increase costs and reduce standards.
I agree with Voter A: councils should be running key services. And Serco should lose their contract with Lincs County Council- they keep messing up and never learn from their mistakes.
We will ban zero hours contracts.”
Workers should be guaranteed a certain number of hours a week if they haven't agreed to a zero-hours contract at the start of their employment. I'm not sure banning zero-hours contracts would change working conditions in the hospitality/agricultural sector. They'd just hire people seasonally and then lay them off in Winter, as they have done in the past.
I've been on a zero-hours contract in the past and had no problems with it. I guess if you have a family to support or need to get a mortgage I've heard it can be an issue. If you don't want a zero-hours contract, don't accept the job! I'd like to hear Labour talk more about improving self-employment rights though – e.g. pensions/ claiming contributions based JSA.
I rely on office staff that on zero-hours contracts; I can't afford to guarantee staff a certain number of hours if business is quiet. That's just a fact of life. If Labour did end up banning the contracts I'd just lay people off and then take others on when I need them again.
Zero-hours contracts have caused some care workers and nurses to walk out of my care home recently. We want to know whether we will be paid for the services we provide. Sometimes managers forget that nurses aren't there as volunteers, even if we care about the happiness of our residents. Banning the contracts is a good idea.
We will take the railways back into public ownership.”
(Renationalisation)
If this meant that trains would be updated, customer service improved and prices might begin to stabilise or even fall, I could support this plan.
Royal Mail has been privatised and I haven't seen any negative changes to my postal service. Corbyn would need to show me that renationalisation would reduce prices of train tickets for all users, not just concessions.
Renationalisation for the sake of it is ridiculous. It hurt the national finances and we can't afford to go into debt over such pipe-dreams. I can't support this.
I don't know whether I agree or disagree with public ownership of the railways but I'd be happy if train services were improved to London and prices fell as my grandson is a student at University College, London (UCL).
We’ll establish a National Investment Bank (£500 billion) at the heart of our plan to rebuild and transform Britain.”
Owen Smith proposed increasing the amount of investment so it's good Corbyn agrees public investment is needed, especially for infrastructure projects.
I'm not sure such a bank would work in practice but I'll be interested to see him put more “meat on the bones” RE the running of the bank. Borrowing when the interest rates are low does sound appropriate.
I'm hoping that this isn't one of those “Magic Money Tree” policies like the £350m promised for the NHS after Brexit. It'd be great to see money being available to upgrade rural Lincs roads, including filling in all the potholes.
This is “Pie in the Sky” thinking at its most clumsy. I didn't think Boris Johnson and Corbyn had much in common till I heard this soundbite. I want investment in public infrastructure but borrowing £500bn to do it. Typical Loony-Left economics.
I think public investment is a good idea; I want to see amazing roads, great schools, more green energy projects, more funding to build modern A&E facilities and more care homes to help our clients (elderly) to have a happy, healthy and secure retirement.
We are pledging to raise corporation tax by less than 1.5 percent to give an Education Maintenance Allowance to college students and grants to university students so that every young learner can afford to support themselves as they develop skills and get qualifications.”
I benefited from the EMA whilst at sixth form college, so I'd like to see it reinstated for working class kids who want to aspire to go to University or want to become Accountants like me. I think raising the corporation tax is a good way of providing for the EMA rather than asking lower paid workers to contribute more.
EMA seems good in theory; it should only go to those students who need it the most so should be means-tested. The Tories haven't come up with an alternative system of support that works.
Raising the Corporation Tax may dissuade businesses from expanding in the UK, reducing job numbers in the long term. EMA is good in an ideal world but we can't afford it currently. Not till the national bank balance is back in the black.
My grandson would have benefited from receiving the EMA whilst studying. It was a challenge helping to buy him coursework books and fund his travel every day to college. EMA is a good idea and businesses should pay more to support future workers' vocational development.
We will introduce an arts pupil premium (£160 million) to every primary school in England and Wales and consult on the design and national roll-out to extend this pupil premium to all secondary schools.”
Allowing students to take pride in expressing themselves creatively is a great idea. Many working class kids never get the chance to learn an instrument or take part in a national singing competition. Now they may get a chance to achieve their dreams.
Arts education has been knocked by the current Tory Govt. We can't keep neglecting those who are working class and have a musical or theatrical talent, just because the Govt has failed to sell STEM subjects to bright students. More money is needed to help fund Lincs schools, so projects like this are welcome.
If a pupil wants to learn an instrument, let the parents fork out for it. Otherwise let the school pay for lessons out of the budget already allocated to them by LGA/councils. The focus should be on improving Maths and Science standards in primary schools to produce future coders and engineers, not more deluded contestants for the X Factor.
I never got the chance to learn how to play an instrument or take part in national competitions. I feel Arts education makes students well-rounded. However more money is needed to improve Maths/Science grades and that includes providing computer labs and chemistry sets for every school.
We will be scrapping the punitive sanctions regime and the degrading Work Capability Assessment.”
Stop shaming disabled people who cannot work for genuine health reasons. Show more compassion!
Sanctions have seemed harsh; I know a friend with MS being told her benefits would be stopped for turning up 10 mins late to a Job Centre appointment. I don't know how effective Work Capability Assessments have been...I need to know more about them before I say anything more on them.
Disabled people can work given the tools and encouragement to do so. We can't mollycoddle those with depression over their hamster dying. Give money to those who genuinely are disabled. Sanctions should be appropriate, not punitive for the sake of it.
The Work Capability Assessments need to be reformed. Punitive sanctions are meant to be a deterrent but may have been used too many times without being questioned for effectiveness. I don't think we should totally scrap either without thinking about other options.
Labour will reinstate the Migrant Impact Fund, and give extra support to areas of high migration using the visa levy for its intended purpose. And we will add a citizenship application fee levy to boost the fund.”
The Tories were wrong to scrap the Migrant Impact Fund. Places in Lincs would have benefited from being able to use the money to expand healthcare and education services to help deal with the increase in Eastern European migrants. I think Corbyn is right to suggest a citizenship application fee levy as long as the money only goes towards the MIF. Labour are taking a fair approach to the immigration issue; don't blame the migrants, blame a lack of investment in local public services and lobby to improve them. MIF is part of the solution.
The MIF isn't enough to help reduce pressure on local services. The only way to do this is to cap the number of migrants coming in from the EU. Citizenship fee seems a good idea but use it to fund the treatment migrants receive on the NHS. Labour have been very weak on immigration so far. I'm glad I voted UKIP in 2015 and I probably will still vote UKIP in 2020.
The MIF didn't work in the past, otherwise the Conservatives wouldn't have scrapped it. We need to reduce numbers coming into Lincs as a matter of urgency. We can't afford to keep supporting Eastern Europeans who can't be bothered to learn the language. Citizenship application fee levy should have been implemented before.
As Corbyn has said before, we need to stop demonising migrants. Many work in Lincoln care homes and do a fantastic job of looking after elderly residents who have complex needs. The MIF sounds good and I hope it will help address overcrowded schools, lack of dentists and GPs and housing crisis. Citizenship application fee levy seems fair but should be means-tested.
Under a Labour government when there are credible reports of human rights abuses or war crimes being committed British arms sales will be suspended, starting with Saudi Arabia.”

I think we should never sell guns to a government like Saudi Arabia. We hear on the news every day about civilians being killed in Syria or Yemen and yet some of the weapons being used were supplied by us. It's shameful!
We don't have a responsibility to police nations who we happen to trade with. Once Saudi Arabia buys the guns from us, it's their choice what they do with them.
Did the Govt really know Saudi Arabia was going to use UK guns to fight a war in Yemen when we sold the guns to them? If we stopped selling products/services to every country whose foreign policy/ human rights policies we didn't agree with, we wouldn't have a chance of growing our GDP or reducing the national debt. Corbyn is too much of an idealist on this.
I don't think it's right to sell guns to countries who are willing to commit human rights abuses. If we don't want to continue trading with Russia after Crimea, why do we want to trade with a country like Saudi Arabia? It doesn't make sense to me.
Best Policy
NLW increase to £10 an hour.
Arts Premium in Primary Schools.
Reducing number of Punitive Sanctions.
Building 60,000 more council houses a year.
Verdict /10 for Policies
8/10
5.5/10
4/10
9/10
Are you more or less likely to vote Labour at the next GE?
More Likely
Unchanged until immigration policy fully revealed.
Less Likely
More Likely

Analysis:
Jeremy Corbyn's speech seems to have played well amongst voters who already identify strongly with Labour values and approved of Labour policies in the past. The responses to the reintroduction of the Migrant Impact Fund (MIF), Educational Maintenance Allowance and a commitment to introducing a National Living Wage at £10 an hour were welcomed by Voters A and D.
Voters A and D both seemed receptive to more "radically socialist" policies mentioned in the Corbyn speech such as the plan to stop arms sales to countries who have committed human rights abuses such as Saudi Arabia and establishing a "National Investment Bank" to fund public infrastructure projects. Voter A did seem a little unsure as to how it may work in practice but hopes Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell (Shadow Chancellor) will help fill in the detail as the policy continues to develop.

Conservative/UKIP voters seem more sceptical about bringing back old policies or rehashing them to appeal to new voting groups. Jeremy Corbyn claims that most of his policies do not originate from New Labour but Corbyn cannot deny that EMA, NMW, MIF were all products of that government.
Voters B and C represent the type of swing voters in Lincoln who Labour are hoping to try and get to vote for them at the next GE. However Corbyn didn't win their support on the key policy announcements in the speech; Voter B sees the "National Investment Bank" idea as another example of "Magic Money Tree" politics and Voter C doesn't believe everyone should be paid a NLW because their skills bases are different (not to mention he may not want to pay his workers more as it may hit his working profit margins). That being said, there are a few differences between Voters B and C worth exploring further.

Voter B is keen on the Arts Premium being available for all primary schools in England and Wales to be able to access arts education regardless of geographical location, school identity or social background of school pupils. Voter C thinks parents should pay towards arts education, or if not, schools should use their existing diminishing budget to provide for their students. Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education funding is more important for Voter C. Voters B and D recognise the need for better STEM funding in schools but not at the detriment of arts funding. Equally, Voter C thinks providing the EMA for poorer students is "idealistic", whereas Voter B agrees with Voters A and D that it should be reintroduced, albeit on a means-tested basis.

Renationalisation of the railways is viewed with some skepticism but 3/4 in this group seem to be open to discussing whether renationalisation would be effective, with emphasis being placed on the cost/availability of tickets for all rail users post renationalisation and whether train stock number/quality would improve as a result of it. Voter C seems ideologically opposed to renationalisation but as a Conservative voter I already expected this prior to Corbyn's speech.

One policy area Voter C did seem to agree at least in part with Corbyn on was that of punitive sanctioning; he believes it should be "appropriate" and only delivered as part of a considered response to the actions of the jobseeker/claimant concerned, something Voters B and D seemed to agree with.

Conclusion:
Jeremy Corbyn's speech was certainly listened to with a degree of seriousness and keen interest in Lincoln. A number of policies were of interest, including renationalisation of the railways, increase in the NLW to £10 an hour and creating a "National Investment Bank" which can be used to fund key infrastructure projects such as improving train stock and filling in potholes on Lincs roads. The voters saw how they could apply Corbyn's policies to Lincoln constituents and the fact that 2/4 (50%) said they were more likely to vote for Corbyn is heartening. Voter B (a UKIP voter) said his views on Corbyn's electability were "unchanged" due to the haziness of Corbyn's immigration policies I feel is fair. Corbyn needs to demonstrate to Brexit voters who may have voted UKIP in 2015's GE that his Labour party can tackle the issues raised by immigration, especially those created in Lincs during the last decade. Corbyn needs to show that the MIF can truly work here, that it can relieve pressure on the NHS and help fund the building of extra social/council housing, whilst insuring a proportion of that housing goes to "native" Yellowbellies. Considering the make up of the Lincoln constituency is 90% British (according to the 2011 Census), this shouldn't be an issue. Positive integration policies need to be pushed to the fore and Corbyn putting aside funding to create multicultural arts/sports projects may help in this endeavour. These sentiments are hinted at in Corbyn's speech but were not addressed head on. I hope Corbyn will be more forward in his rhetoric on immigration in the future, particularly when the Brexit negotiations begin after Article 50 is triggered.

The views of Voter C show that Corbyn's brand of "socialism" will never win certain voters to his cause. The focus therefore should be on those voters who feel change is needed to help the working and middle class feel their quality of life is getting better, not worse. By addressing housing, by addressing transport infrastructure, by addressing concerns over public service pressures and by espousing a kinder, more compassionate form of socialism which can also deliver an element of fiscal responsibility both locally and nationally, Corbyn may gain the voters he needs to turn marginal seats from Conservative to Labour. At least in Lincolnshire and the East Midlands! So onwards to Theresa May's Conservative Conference and the policy goodies/baddies she may unveil next....arbitrary cap on immigration is my best bet!
 

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Jezza Corbyn Won....Labour's Gone "Super Socialist". What's Next? Some Positive Thoughts:

"We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us." Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen. Representer of "Middle England". Compassionate Humanitarian.

After months of preambling fawnication that seemed totally forced in places (particularly coming from the "Owen Thingy" side) and weeks of faux social media outrage from both "Trots" n "Mods" with a rambunctious level of vitriol  that wouldn't have looked out of place on a 1960's Brighton Beach scene a la "Quadrophenia" the Labour Leadership contest has now been sanely put to bed. Predictable as it was, Corbyn's re-election percentage at 61.2% crushed many moderate MP's dreams of reforming Labour under a "centrist" as opposed to a "socialist" ideological mould. Not necessarily "New Labour" than "Labour dusted off and polished with extra moderate sparkle New Labour". The party members clearly didn't want a rehashed version of the same old policies that failed to get Ed Milibland elected last year. Poncing off the Brown-Blair double act wasn't going to do much for their chances either. Looking at YouGov polling figures from Labour members who voted in the leadership election gleamed between 21st and 23rd September, 2016, you find 3 interesting groups within Labour that decided to vote for Owen rather than Corbyn: "10% more 18-24 year olds,  18% more Scottish voters and 26% of Labour members who were members prior to the 2015 GE voted for Smith". These are the sorts of voters groups Corbyn and Labour should be aiming to win decisively round in time for the next GE which is currently presumed to take place in 2020 but may get moved up depending on #BrexitFarceGate. Are they uncomfortable with Labour policies under Corbyn? Did they question his ability to deliver on those policies? More importantly, what's next for those voters, both Labour and floating/swing voters who uncomfortable with the notion of supporting "hard left socialist" policies? What does "hard left socialist" even mean to them ?

Buzzing Making Us Nuts: The Folly of Political Buzzwording.

Most Brits know very little about the substance behind political buzzwords. They haven't got the time or inclination to decode them on a daily basis, for their meanings seem to semantically shift willy-nilly. The buzzwords mean whatever the individual/Momentum/Jeremy Corbyn/Labour want them to mean. Ask my working class Irish born, Leicester educated  Dad what one means by "hard left" or "extreme right" and he'd give you a death stare worthy of Brendan Cole proportions after being told by Craig Devil Whorewood his pirouettes require "significant work" if he's to use them in a "Char-Char-Char daaaarling." However, when I mention the word "socialism" to Dad or his friends down the local boozer, they genuinely cringe and ask me where I've heard the word and "do I know what it actually means?" A number of them equated Socialism to Communism on the spot, citing Jezza Corbyn as a key exponent of "commie dressed up as socialist". It was surprising hearing such fervour considering most of my Dad's friends have been sympathetic towards Labour for 40-odd years, having never voted Conservative even during the Thatcherite years! Whenever they hear the "unity" buzzword from Corbyn them seem to give a wry smile. It seemed as if they were genuinely not convinced a self-proclaimed socialist could unite the Labour party to the point where they would vote for them. So it makes me wonder, why socialism remains a "dirty no-no word" that cannot be uttered at beer pumps and in chippies across Lincolnshire and the East Midlands without creating a few wry smiles.  How can Corbyn's Labour aka "Social Democrats on acid" reach out to voters who share my Dad's disdain for "socialism" to vote for them at the next GE?

Does Socialism Really Have An Image Problem? Look at who advocated it:
When I think about who could be called a "great socialist" in a general sense of the word, I can name several surprising socialists who I feel make a great contribution to the debate over socialism's "image":
  • Mark Twain, famous for writing twee escapist novels such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was an anti-capitalist, who always "saw himself on the side of the revolutionaries" because "there never was a revolution unless there was some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolt". Twain was anti-slavery, pro women's suffrage and supported the Trade Union movement in the US at a time when holding such views was seen as "revolutionary".
  • Oscar Wilde was an ardent socialist. In his seminal essay "The Soul of Man under Socialism", Wilde said that socialism "will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism...nobody will waste his life in accumulating things". Wilde advocated for a form of socialism that favoured individualism over authoritarianism. Intervening constantly in the private lives of citizens is not socialism's goal. Intervention by public investment projects and improving financial capital of all citizens is a preferred goal.
  • Albert Einstein had serious issues with the Western capitalist system. In his essay "Why Socialism?", Einstein explained how capitalism was making human beings suffer from a "process of deterioration" which makes them "feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naïve, simple and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Einstein's view of capitalist society was that it was "anarchic" and this anarchy was "the real source of evil" because it results in "an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organised political society." Einstein would have despaired of men like Donald Trump using divisive trashy language and capitalist sentiments to try and convince those whose lives haven't improved under a capitalist system but who are fearful of social and economic change into voting for a romantic image of a White Supremacist America" his parents once inhabited. Where such bland sentiments as "men were men", "women were women" were preached with aplomb, where gays and queers were expected to "atone" for their sins should they be found out with prison sentences, where Afro-Americans were treated as second class citizens just because they had the "misfortune" for being born with a different skin colour and where Walt Disney was still worshipped like that golden calf idol we read so much of in the whimsical pages of Old Testament focussed Biblical teachings. Einstein thought the socialist approach was a better way; he said there should be "an education system...orientated towards social goals". This would encourage social change to happen through improvement of the general education system to ensure all citizens could understand their role in maintaining respect and compassion for one another regardless of backgrounds. Sounds like something I'm hearing from Angela Rayner when she announced plans to oppose selection on the basis of more grammar schools at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool today with her catchy slogan- "Educate, Not Segregate". I feel we need more of this close emphasis on trying to improve the lives of all citizens, not just the few.
Unity Breeds Success:

So, it's time to try and change the image of socialism amongst UK voters, especially those voters forever blandly classified as being part of "Middle England". I feel that process starts by clearly separating Communism (including Marxism and Trotskyism) away from Socialism in the public mindset. After all, Communism and Socialism are separate ideologies even if they may share similar goals and aspirations. Marxism and Trotskyism are extreme, idealistic and do not fundamentally address the economic and social challenges facing the UK now we have decided to Brexit. The idea that we working class should rise up and forcibly steal iEphemera from Apple stores to show them they don't pay enough in wages or that they should hold a referendum to decide whether Queen Liz can keep her Crown Jewels and duties intact is laughable considering the bulk of UK voters have been traditionally seen as "conservative with a small c". Socialism, on the other hand, can accept individual political beliefs whilst trying to aim to improve the lot of all citizens, as opposed to just a small section of society who may have been badly served in the past.

Bashing socially ambitious working class creative grads and environmental campaigners as "champagne socialists" is as unhelpful as classifying nurses and teaching assistants as "Trots". Socialism is meant to be seen as progressive and inclusive and playing a "who's got the funniest/most hurtful label" semantic game won't help change mindsets. We need to get away from the braying mob mentalities one finds on some social media platforms these days. I'm reminded of a sentient quote from James Keir Hardie, (1856-1915), Labour's first MP and socialist champion of the working class - "to claim for socialism that it is a class war is to do it an injustice and indefinitely postpone its triumph. Socialism offers a platform broad enough for all to stand upon. It makes war upon a system, not upon a class".  When Labour attacks voters by assuming they have voted Conservative based on the class into which they were born or their geographical location, they go against Hardie's sentiments. When Corbynistas attack Labour moderates as being "too right wing" for the Labour party, they go against Hardie's wish for Labour to be a welcoming, tolerant party that can be electable because it can draw from a wide base of support.

Basically creating and maintaining a positive PR campaign demonstrating the benefits of Socialism to the UK economy, culture and society. Everything from supporting farmers in their fight to get the best market price for their produce (especially Milk) from supermarket buyers to ensuring there are enough local front-line police officers to reassure the public and bring offenders to justice as quickly and efficiently as possible should be discussed within the light of "socialist" ideology. A "strength in numbers" approach is necessary for this PR campaign to work to full effect.

Mr Corbyn's call for unity may seem rather hollow at the moment given the divisive antics of the last year. However it is pleasing to see self-defined socialist MPs such as Jess Phillips prepared to give Corbyn the benefit of the doubt now her preferred candidate lost the election. I'd have done exactly the same thing. Centrists can be won over with appropriate policy announcements along with a promise to be "listened to" especially when it comes to promoting their own policy areas, whether it be ensuring the voting age is lowered to 16 (as it was in the Scottish referendum), making SRE (Sex and Relationships Education) statutory in all secondary schools with an emphasis on consent, awareness of LGBTQIA relationships or lack of relationships or making healthy school meals free for primary school pupils if their parents receive state Benefits. It's all about attention to detail policy wise. Labour have to sell these policies to electorates across the UK and it's certainly true to argue certain policies will resonate with certain sections of the electorate. For example, metropolitan constituencies such as Leicester or Nottingham will appreciate any drive to improve the nutritional content of school meals and to ensure they are free to those that need them. Reinstating EMA (Educational Maintenance Allowance) for sixth form and college students between 16 and 19 and a guaranteed commitment to raising the National Living Wage to £10 an hour (topping the Conservative's £9) would prove extremely popular with working class families who aspire to having a better standard of living. (I know this having spoken to people in the chippy today following Shadow Chancellor and "Stain Remover" John McDonnell's keynote speech on the economy; every one of them "oohed" in delight when they heard about the policy.)
Islington "champagne socialists" and "middle Englanders" in Lincolnshire alike will be pleased at plans to oppose fracking in the long term and move towards sustainable, clean energy sources such as tidal/hydroelectric power stations. Even Brexiteers in Wales and Cornwall can breathe a mahoosive sigh of hypocritical relief now Labour have promised to keep on message re Brexit as well as promising to maintain funding at current levels: (playing that having their cake and taking a gerrymandering bite out of it whilst the bite tastes sickly sweet.) So it seems when you begin to dig deep into policy detail, socialism isn't quite a "dirty word" after all!

Conclusion:

One day, the UK may have a system which embraces socialist values rather than decries them as being radical. I guess I'm a bit biased; despite being seen as a centrist because I am non-party affiliated, I must say I've been rather jealous of my Grandma's homeland, Sweden. Although Sweden isn't fully the "socialist paradise" many journalists (and Bernie Sanders) have purported it to be, it has been ranked as the world's happiest country many times over. Swedish citizens are generally anti-nuclear weapons, (8/10 Swedes according to a The Local Sweden online magazine poll in April 2014 want to see all nuclear weapons abolished) but 65% of Swedes have shown they are in favour of allowing the Swedish Government or Riksdag to use nuclear power to generate energy. The Riksdag has agreed to replace the ageing reactors without building new ones, thus maintaining the energy mix as is. Understanding the need for nuclear energy at the moment whilst opposing nuclear armament is
not seen as incompatible because they differ in terms of function. Socialists can advocate an anti-nuclear weapons viewpoint without necessarily writing nuclear energy out of the future energy mix. Nonetheless, the Riksdag have decided to set an ambitious target of going 100% renewable energy by 2040, something the UK Government could only dream of doing currently. Equally, the government abolishing the nuclear tax placed on producers was a bold move for a socialist government, leading to a "loss of 4.5 billion kronor in gross revenue" (according to a The Local Sweden article, 10th June 2016). This goes to show socialists can make difficult decisions which may make their members disaffected when pressed to do so. Something Mr Corbyn may have to bare in mind if he gets into power.

Swedish people pay a relatively high rate of income tax but many Swedes are happy to pay this; they even have faith in their Tax Agency  Skatteverket. Unlike the UK, the tax system is simple: you pay tax based on income and local government taxes (which are a bit like the UK's council rates). Inheritance tax has been abolished since 2005 and 3.7 million Swedes received a refund from a pot of 29 billion SEK, not bad considering they receive this money in time for the famous Midsommer festival (between 19th and 25th June) where many Swedes begin their annual 5 week holiday by going away from the cities into the skogen (forests) to dance around may poles and celebrate natural beauty. The word for tax, skatt has another meaning in Swedish- treasure and for many Swedes, taxes help to fund a brilliant welfare system that allows students to attend university for free. Yet the state is only interventionist to a point. LGBTQIA rights are some of the best in the world and citizens are allowed to get on with their lives provided they stay within the confines of the law, enshrined in the Freedom of Expression Act which came into effect in 1992. All achieved in no small part due to having a strong social democratic influence. The current Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, is a social democrat and Socialdemokraterna are now the largest party in the Swedish Government. In Sweden, socialism is not a dirty word. Many see socialists as centre left as opposed to hard left.  I'm hoping to see a shift in attitudes in the UK. To get to a point where socialists are not seen as "commies" who only deserve our mockery. I believe this requires a mass positive PR campaign. Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party are only starting to deliver effectively but with a unified party, more nuanced policy discussions and a growth in grassroots support with people who are engaged, informed and ready to fight for their beliefs, Labour will have a chance to contest the next GE. The road is hilly, steep and full of obstacles but not impassable.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

When Procrastination isn't enough...

Don't you just hate that whimsically debilitating feeling on a Monday morning when you want to dream about something magical, mystical and downright magnificent, but end up trying to decide what psychedelic paint might look good on your office table to spook your super stuck-up "Miss Polly Perfect" manager with the twinkly eye for the new administrative assistant with his pert bum that looks like it came out of an Ann Summers catalogue circa 1983.
 
Procrastination can be a mighty fine thing; it can take us to the heights of ecstasy when we want to escape from the pits of despair. I can first-rate procrastinate when I'm revising for an Accountancy exam and I can switch off dazzlingly when my Dad drags me to the pub to listen to yet another Leicester footy match on the Sky/BT/Czech Prostitute channel (yes there seems to be rather a number of suspect ads on the foreign controlled footy channels...not difficult to wonder why....) Yet it seems so darn difficult elsewhere! Most office staff hate having to update spreadsheets in the afternoon despite having the Excel formulas which are designed to allow our brain to drift to an exotic place whilst our hands and eyes do the hard work of shuffling data from one end of the page to another. Never quite works out that way! I love dreaming about Jack Farthing playing a rather broody, malicious banker in Poldark and wishing he'd come over and command me to serve him and do his bidding- do a bit of accounting here, a back rub/ oil massage there....the usual erotic elements that come to mind for those supposed dirty/disgusting "Lucifer" trans people out there: trust me it's a MAJOR Epic Stereofail used to tarnish perfectly acceptable sexual appetite that exists in some trans people. Suffice to say I'm like the Virgin Mary than any sort of sycophant for the Devil when it comes to actual experience! I'm more likely seen fawning over the ice cream man to get a free Whippy refill or flattering a jewellery salesman to reduce the price on a ravishingly beautiful Amethyst brooch that I had my eye on 6 months ago but couldn't be bothered to pay full price for and then get 20% knocked off with0ut having to knock him off...a relief!
 
Sadly I never think about such "lace and whips" hijinks in the office.  I never hear anyone have such thoughts. It's usually what picture might look best in my bedroom this season or whether my Dad would like Lincolnshire sausage or Quavers for dinner tonight. Very mundane forms of procrastination abound. Yet I can never truly forget about how mundane the work is, how screechy the voice of the answering machine can be when having to listen to messages on repeat to copy down the "very important" number that the boss needs to call-back "that very minute" but he's buggered off to play miniature golf in Murcia with his haggard business partner who thinks trans people are "mentally insane" and "need a shaft up their man-pussy to make them come back to earth again" (yes he really did say that the rakish young "100% Solid hetero" knave...what a lad....).
 
So #SorryNotSorry but procrastination is just not enough for the working environment. We need a mahoosively brainy psychoanalyst to come up with post-procrastination techniques that keep us being malcontent as opposed to being malevolent. Tough ask I grant ye, but then again Monseigneur Tom Hobbes did remind us that life is "nasty, brutish and short". Whimsies can't cut it, so what about hardcore dreaming, with virtual reality filter glasses being available to every Tom, Dick and Harriet in an office environment. Make it available on the NHS and cure the productivity problem 110% with options for spending time with Poldark, The Night Manager or that dishy vicar from Grantchester I can't quite recollect (James Norton drool klaxon). Otherwise it's back to the shopping queues (as annoying and draining mentally as they are physically..urgh!) and blurred lines of fattening cuisine for me. Sigh.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Is the term "Cisgender" now a super slur weapon for the Trans community?

Ot-Oh Wot-Oh! There's a super slur doing its rounds in the trans community. This time it doesn't seem to be aimed at trans people! Phew what a relief. Yet what turns out to be deemed a new "slur" is only really the semantic shifting by some right wing academics of a term that's been used by transfeminist and queer academics for decades. I always thought "cisgender" just meant someone who identifies with the gender which fits their biological organ status; i.e. a man who was born with a penis/testicles who self-identifies as a man is a cisgender man. Thus a rather posh way of saying "non-trans". It's strange to see that "cisgender" and "cissexism" are terms which are now easily deemed worthy of alienation, to be thrown in that super mega full trash can of antiquated terminology that litters old editions of OEDs that reside on dust filled bookshelves the world over. What IS so controversial about calling someone "cis"? Does it play into a deliberate alienation narrative being "perpetrated" by some in the transfeminist discourse community? Are some trans people denying others the "happiness" gained through gender assimilation? Or is this just
another pointless semantic battle that has the intention of undermining genuine discussions about the differences between non-binary trans and other trans people masquerading as a form of gender binary assimilation fetish being egged on by non-trans critics?

Arguments against using the term cisgender:
  • What happens if a man is born without fully functioning sexual organs -e.g. a eunuch still self-identifies as a "macho man"? Should he still be termed cisgender by transfeminists? 
  • Cisgender isn't used in everyday speech and not many "ordinary people" would understand it outside of academic discourse. "Non trans" sounds more colloquial and what "real people" use.
  • Cisgender wasn't a term created by non-trans people to describe themselves. The label is being "forced" upon them by transfeminists and queer theorists. It's not fair.
  • Cisgender "sounds" offensive; trans activists only use the term when they want to denigrate/berate those who they consider to be bigoted/prejudiced.
  • Twitter Trolls who are trans use the term "cis" to be nasty towards hetero people.
Arguments for using the term cisgender:
  • Cisgender is a neutral term; it's etymology matches that of transgender: "cis" in Latin means "on the same side" and trans means "on the other side".
  • Who is to determine which words are "real" and which are "fictional"? If critics are using the word with the meaning they ascribe to it, which seems to be an agreed meaning, it must logically be a "real word", even if its usage is selective!
  • Straight people never collectively agreed on whether they wanted to be called "heterosexual" or not; most never bother using the term except when answering official surveys so why suggest all non-trans people should have to agree on the "cisgender term".
  • To some transgender "sounds" offensive because it doesn't describe their gender identity in its entirety. Sometimes labels can only draw attention to differing identities; cisgender is not considered either to be a panacea or a demonising label.
  • Social media is a smouldering cauldron of different views, of which trans slurring cis people is a component. Yes some trans people are trolls. Some get provoked whereas others do it for the sheer hellraising. We should all condemn the use of the term "cis" to be negative but don't blame everyone using the term for the mistakes caused by a few miscreants.
Conclusion:
There will always be activists, academics and "ordinary people" who find certain terminology that is used by others (especially detractors) to describe them as ineffective, inappropriate or slanderous. I can understand a man who has a vested interest in maintaining a false dual gender-binary because of his "macho" identity can feel he is being wrongly defined. To him, he is a "man", plain and simple.
However, to say that calling this man "cisgender" should be regarded in the same vein of slander as outwardly calling a trans person a "pussy" or "she-male" is to slightly blow the semantic debate out of proportion. Those on the alt-right, defenders of the "gender binary" as immutable claim there is an imbalance when it comes to classification of terminology as obsolete or useful. They ask why "tranny" or "transsexual" is getting replaced by "transgender" when it defines trans people "well enough" whilst bitching about an opposing label used to separate them. They also question why using the term "cisgender" cannot be interpreted as a hate incident on the same level as "tranny". Is it part of our free speech policy to allow such terms to be banded about without being challenged- i.e. why are "she-male" and "tranny" considered elements of verbal abuse that can be reported as a hate crime when "cisgender" isn't? Despite this line of thought, I've rarely heard many non-trans people be offended by the "cisgender" term because it isn't in everyday discourse. The level of harm caused by uttering "tranny" on the street as opposed to "cisgender" is incalculable because of its frequency of usage in daily discourse. Some trans people here "tranny" every day in their working class neighbourhoods full of misunderstanding about gender identity. Perhaps it is better to focus on eradicating semantic prejudices that actually affect people emotionally than spending time on trying to dismiss a perfectly acceptable term grounded in academic integrity!
 

Monday, 19 September 2016

"Fail the 11+,Fail At Life...Yeah Right!": My Thoughts On Grammar Schools

I'm not a massive fan of selection. Yes I know selection processes happen throughout our lives, mostly instigated by the actions of our "well intentioned"/"folly ridden" parents. It starts when we are forced out of the comfort of Mama's womb into what can be an extremely unforgiving alien environment. For years we have our clothes chosen for us, have grubby food forced down our necks which we have to be "grateful" for or we "get no ice cream for dessert" and our thoughts and actions are  dictated to us inside and outside the home even if those thoughts and actions have an element of malicious intent around them. All of these instances are examples of selection and with it being so prevalent in our lives, I believe the less we select, the better. "Live and let live" is my motto du jour, respecting and promoting diversity is my raison-d'etre, being unique and authentic my MO. So it probably comes as no surprise to hear that I'm not the biggest fan of grammar schools. I've not entirely benefitted from an education provided by a comprehensive masquerading itself as a grammar school that's used the fetishistic desire for "ambitious improvement through self-defined academisation" to try and fashion itself into a parody of  Mr Red White and Blue's "Thoroughly British Public School", capped off by a supposed generous, sincere old chap (grasping, conniving porn addict more like) as it's bloated head. Confused identities aren't narrowly restricted to humanity after all.

Naturally any UK selective system is geared towards those who can afford to splash out on English and Maths tutors to ensure their "Little Lord Harrogate" can pass the test with as much ease as possible. Wanting the best for your kid isn't a crime by any stretch of the imagination but considering thousands of children pass their SATs at Levels 5 and 6 without much extra tutoring being necessary, it's a bit of an unfair advantage. Surely if we are to be truly fair as an education system, we should ensure tutors are available for all kids who need it, and not just those whose parents have deeper wallets than the cavity of the Grand Canyon.

I've never been a fan of "pushy parenting"; my own parents let me make my own mistakes and achievements, mainly because my achievements came in subjects they'd not been good at whilst at secondary school. My Mum didn't know anything about Jane Austen's use of satirical devices in Pride and Prejudice or what happens when potassium reacts with lithium, oxygen or water and she went to a girls private school in South Africa!  If you tried to get me Da to name the number of verbs that use être in the French perfect tense he'd be truly lost for words (and that doesn't happen particularly often!) I was glad that I had to put the time and effort in to research, write and revise for myself; hard grafting made my educational experience more fulfilling. Instilling academic rigour and forbearance in all students has to be a central tenet for all educational establishments, not just selective ones!

To cap it all off, I was one of those kids who was written off at 11 as a "low achiever", a "slow developer" that'd never truly gain the qualifications needed to be anything more than a cog in a well-oiled working class gig economy machine. I was never given the chance to sit an 11+ exam paper. My junior school teachers and my parents fought hard to convince the school I got into (The Priory LSST) that I was worth taking a chance on. My SATs and their testimonies were the only way I managed to get into even a decent comprehensive school. Whilst I was at the Priory LSST, I was told not to expect academic miracles; that it was miracle enough I got into that good school and I should be grateful. I was subject to the set streaming system that wrote some students off as hopeless at source.
Comprehensive schools with set streaming - Sets 1 to 4:
  1. Projected to achieve A*-B grades at GCSE
  2. Projected to achieve A-C grades at GCSE
  3. Projected to achieve B-E grades at GCSE
  4. Projected to achieve C-G grades at GCSE
Movement amongst the set groups was achievable - either upwards (as happened for me in English Literature and Modern Foreign Languages) or downwards (as in Maths). So there was a level of hope instilled in some students and luckily I did have some subjects where I was considered good or "satisfactory" (which meant I'd achieve a Grade C)  or enthusiastic about (below Grade C), so it wasn't all bad. Nobody expected me to pass all my GCSE's above Grade C, including Maths (where I'd been marked as a failure for near on a decade.) I was told my propensity to remember philosophical arguments by the likes of Aristotle, Kant and Iris Murdoch would be close enough to nought. And because I was crap at physical subjects such as PE and Woodwork I'd never be able to "support myself" without an academic brain. My "developmental dyspraxia" diagnosis was supposed to curse my physical and academic development at the same time. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than proving my doubters in that school wrong. Dead wrong. So you can see that taking an arbitrary test to determine your academic future that labels you straight off as "a mediocre achiever" is despicable and not allowing some to attempt the test in the first place is deplorable, especially if they have demonstrated glimpses of promise, no matter how "dim" they may be. It's just not cricket.

What I believe we should do instead of focussing on expanding grammar schools :

We need to be focussing our efforts on improving standards for all students regardless of social class, gender, geographical location and learning ability or lack thereof rather than wanting to expand a system of education because we "arbitrarily believe it to be better" just because you were a working class kid that happened to do well out of it back in the Swinging Sixties.

"Slow developers" can make great progress if they are given motivational teachers who have the ability to help students spark an interest in their chosen subject. That doesn't mean just hiring people who happen to have achieved the highest degree marks or have gone to postgraduate level. These teachers need to be able to connect. There is no point having a teacher attempting to deliver an RE lesson if they don't particularly like engaging in debate with their students, peer teachers or experts that may choose to visit the school to offer their perspective on an issue. If you can't bare to be challenged, how do you expect your students to take a broad, enlightened look at social and moral issues? My RE teacher sparked an interest in me in Philosophy because he dared to challenge our assumptions about the immutability of God even though he was a Christian himself. He spent time explaining arguments through the use a range of teaching materials including videos, brainstorms and online learning to reach as many students in the class as possible. He took the time to correct spelling and punctuation, to help students who had learning difficulties to come up with an essay style to suit them. He cared about every student in that class, irrespective of expected GCSE attainment levels. Guess what...at the end of the 2005 GCSE teaching cycle, he had managed to get every student a grade C or higher in their GCSE RE exam. I managed to gain a high A*, a huge unexpected achievement considering my first RE teacher wrote me off as a "no hoper" and told my parents this face-to-face. And that was in a comprehensive! Albeit a comprehensive starting to dress itself up as academy.

What sorts of things could we do to solve educational standards crisis apart from opening more grammar schools:
  • Ensure comprehensive schools can attract the best talent- there should be incentives for all subject teachers and not just in STEM subjects.
  • Ensure teachers are equipped to deal with difficult issues in Humanities and Social Sciences or if they are hoping to become personal tutors.
  • Improve educational resources in comprehensive schools- encourage Heads to set money aside for technological aids and encourage teachers to become familiar with social media channels to engage with students on an daily basis, allowing them to ask questions before or after a specific lesson.
  • Get teachers to release a module by module/ term by term timetable for subject study, especially if they at GCSE Level/A Level. This allows students to research topics in advance and plan for the rigorous nature of the lesson.
  • Encourage peer-to-peer learning via social media platforms, including Twitter and Skype.
  • Set aside specific time to help SEN students and give guidance to their classroom assistants on a weekly basis.
  • Be more aware of signs of learning disability/differences, especially with male students.
  • Employ more teaching assistants with knowledge and experience of working with SEN students within the classroom.
  • Get careers advisors to come into schools at 14 to give impartial advice and support to students with a focus on their work/educational options post 16.
  • Improve extra-curricular activity provision, encouraging teaching assistants and parents to set up groups for all students to attend -  e.g. Debating society, Latin group, Theatre groups etc.
Conclusion:
Grammar schools are not the enemy of the left. Conservatives and UKIPpers want to jump on the ideological bandwagon of grammar school expansion because they believe they can be a "cure all" for the problem of lacklustre social mobility levels being experienced by the working class at the moment. They forget that grammar schools are high-achieving because they attract high-quality teachers, have investment streams that can facilitate extra-curricular activities, extra tutoring and allow school leavers with access to the "Old Boys networks" currently prevalent in Oxbridge, Russell Group Unis (one of which I attended- University of York) and the professions. I want comprehensive school students to have the same level of access to resources, high quality teachers and not to be written off as "mediocre achievers" who cannot "grasp academic study" because of their socio-economic or learning ability status. It's time to help those at the bottom of the pile and raise their standards of education and their aspirations, to allow them to even dream of gaining a grade C at GCSE let alone the 5 (including English and Maths) they usually need to gain access to an entry level admin job. Compassionate, inclusive education is key. Selection can play a small part in this but shouldn't be the cornerstone of our educational system. Secondary moderns are not going to make the anticipated return some socially engineering alt-right Tories want. You can salivate all you like but Pavlov's ringing the dingy bell that only awakens the tiresome. I'm batting for the other side and make no apologies for it.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Hate Crime- What Do Trans People Think About It?: A UK Analysis

Compassion is one of the buzzwords I have been using rather a lot during my blog's existence. It's one of the qualities I look for in a Bessie buddy, work colleague or employer. More often than not we are wrapped up in trying to satisfy our own egos that we forget to demonstrate compassion to our opponents/enemies as well as to our friends. It can be difficult to be level headed when someone hurls a "you look like Mrs Brown but in Norwegian troll form" insult down the local bar but how you respond I believe shows your true nature. Yes, most people wouldn't batter an eyelid if you only heard this insult once in your life, being uttered by an ill dressed stranger who's probably on his way to get absolutely bladdered to try and forget his own reprobate life back home. Yet what happens if you suffer from daily systematic bursts of name-calling from your so-called "friendly" neighbours? What happens if the name-calling leads to vicious emails, deliberate social media trolling and shaming, veiled death threats or wild paedophilic accusations? Heaven forbid, what would happen if that name calling that you ignored from neighbours lead to actual physical and sexual abuse, such as oral rape by those neighbours concerned? If you had only spoken up and reported the name-calling to the police, surely it would have put the local beat PCSO/PC on notice to check up on you to make sure you were alright and warn the neighbours about their poisonous, vile behaviour? You'd think any rational police officer/PCSO would do this for any of his/her/their residents? After all his/her/their duty is to "protect and serve" the local population. So why are so many trans people afraid to report hate incidents? Why don't they understand the nature of hate crime means some hate incidents will be classified as an actual crime? Why don't PCSOs encourage more trans people to report hate incidents/crimes?

What IS the difference between a hate incident and a hate crime?
Luckily for "hate crime" deniers there is a common, relatively easy to understand set of definitions that have been agreed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and UK Policing bodies:

Hate incidents:
Something is a hate incident if the victim or anyone else thinks it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on one of these characteristics:
  • disability
  • race
  • religion
  • transgender identity (as opposed to Gender Reassignment protected characteristic in the Equality Act)
  • sexual orientation.
If you feel that something is a hate incident it must be recorded as such by the person you are speaking to. All police forces report hate crime based on these five characteristics.

Hate Crimes:
Any incident which leads to breaking the law which has been motivated by prejudice/discrimination based on one or more of the five characteristics stated above will be classified as a hate crime.

Here's a simplified table to show some links between hate incidents and hate crimes:

Type of Hate Offence
Can it be recorded as a Hate Incident?
Can it be recorded as a Hate Crime?
Verbal abuse- e.g. name calling
 
Yes
 
Harassment (as defined under the Equality Act – see my post on HR- trans people protected under transsexual label within Gender Reassignment protected characteristic)
Yes
Yes
Bullying/Intimidation in public- (e.g. Section 4-Fear or Provocation of Violence, Public Order Act, 1988)
Yes
Yes
Physical Abuse-hitting/punching/spitting
(e.g. Section 3, Affray under Public Order Act, 1988)
Yes
Yes
Sexual assault
Yes
Yes
Damage to home/car- e.g. transphobic graffiti
Yes
Yes
Burglary
Yes
Yes
Hate Mail (as defined under the Malicious Communications Act, 1988)
Yes
Yes
Online Trolling/Abuse- e.g. on Twitter/Facebook social media platforms
Yes
 
Fraud
Yes
Yes
Coercion and Control by a partner because of trans status (covered under the new DVA regulations which came into effect from Dec, 2015)
Yes
Yes

There are no specific transphobic crimes currently identified under the law, but certain incidents will be considered hate crimes if they break an existing law- e.g. if there is a sustained level of verbal abuse by a number of individuals who are local to you (neighbours) and they do not desist from these activities when asked to do so by the police, they could be given an ASBO (Anti Social Behaviour Order) where they have to abide by a set of rules for 2 years or face a fine of £1,000 if they are a young offender or up to £5,000 and 5 years in prison if they are an adult offender).
or end up being prosecuted under the Public Order Act, 1988 or for breaching the Equality Act, 2010, dependent on the nature of the offence and evidence provided by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). As well as reporting the abuse to the police, you can get your local authority/landlord to take action against the neighbours concerned using their anti-social behaviour powers. You can also take the perpetrators to civil court to be compensated for your experience and to get them to desist from carrying on their behaviour using the Protection from Harassment Act, 1997 (which can led to ASBOs being awarded too).

It's interesting to note that according to the Citizen's Advice Bureau (CAB website, "when someone is charged with a homophobic or transphobic hate crime, the judge can impose a tougher sentence on the offender under the Criminal Justice Act 2003." However, regardless of how the incident may look within the prism of LGBT hostility/prejudice/discrimination, the offence may still be seen as a crime even if it was not motivated by your transgender identity.

With so much legislation and guidance in place, why have there been so few public prosecutions reported by the mainstream media? Why do victims who report hate crime feel unsupported?

My Survey:
According to The Independent article written by Peter Yeung in July 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/transphobic-hate-crime-statistics-violence-transgender-uk-police-a7159026.html
there has been a 170% rise in transphobic hate crimes being reported to police, yet there were only 582 offences reported in total in the year and reports only came from 26/45 UK police forces. Yeung concluded that the "low prosecution rates  (19 in 2015, falling from 22 in 2014 according to 15/26 UK forces) and "lack of police training on trans issues" were to blame for such low levels of reporting.

So I wanted to see how a small group of trans respondents (not assorted by gender or sexuality preference) reacted to a series of hate offences being offered as potential hate crimes to see whether they would report such crimes to the local police force if they became a victim themselves of that crime. I carried out a poll with Facebook Trans-Rights group to see what trans people thought about denotations of hate crime. Some examples I gave are currently perceived as hate incidents whilst others are firm examples of hate crime. I reprint the poll results below: (conducted 13-14th September 2016).

Which of the following would you say needs to be reported to your local police force as a hate crime? (feel free to add any suggestions- no suggestions were added):

Type of Hate Offence
Number of respondents
Receiving daily targeted, hate emails/letters from a TERF (a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist)
54
Being called "tranny" or "shemale" in the street by a stranger
49
Being told you cannot use the bathroom that corresponds to your chosen gender
47
Distribution of discriminatory trans literature by a Christian group- e.g. Westboro Baptist Church
45
Having a drink thrown over you in a (cisgender) nightclub
33
Trans on Trans Insults -e.g. lookism/passability related.
7

Analysis:
Most respondents believed hate emails/letters from feminists who identify openly as being anti-trans should be classified as a hate crime, along with stranger verbal abuse and employers/colleagues/strangers blocking bathroom access. The high response rate tallies with common views espoused by the trans community irrespective of transition status, gender preference or sexual orientation.

However trans-on-trans insults/verbal abuse doesn't seem to figure as a hate crime towards trans people, which is rather shocking considering the recent Body Positive and anti-lookism movements within transfeminism aimed at helping trans people be proud of their bodies and appearance. With this being such a contentious issue and needs covering in its own right (after further investigation) I shall deal with it in my next blogpost.

It came to my attention that some respondents felt the current police quality standards system were ineffective. For example, Colin, a trans- guy in Guildford, Surrey contacted me to say that he'd reported more than 20 examples of hate crime to his local police station but received no responses; they had "disappeared into silent bureaucracy". Strangely, Colin was only following advice given on the Citizen's Advice Bureau (CAB) page to report all hate crime/incidents in an attempt to prevent them escalating into more serious incidents. It transpired that he'd met with the local chief of police to discuss his experiences, yet nothing actually changed as a result of that meeting. All buzzwords and compliments but no concrete action to address the direct concerns that he had outlined in the hate crime reports that he had submitted. The fact no action had been taken has led to him deciding not to "go out" anymore. We often forget that victims of hate crime can become reclusive as a result of receiving sustained abuse from local residents. Colin even linked his experience to that of social class: "I have a saying about surrey ive lived here most of my life born here its a saying 'the poorer you are the more acid is going to be thrown at you' seems true around here!" This seems to have been compounded by the fact that Colin informed me that there had been no LAGLO (Lesbian and Gay Liaison Officer who is designated by a force to help LGBTQIA people) representation at Croydon Pride; you see them in abundance in Manchester and at the main London pride events so I shall be seeing whether a Lincs LAGLO turns up to Lincoln Pride on the 24th September so I can ask them specifically about hate crime prevention and prosecution in Lincolnshire.

Joanne, a trans lady told me she was so afraid of the police as a result of her experience of hate crime that she can't bring herself to report it (she has now been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and is now recovering slowly). Ryan, a trans male teenager told me he gets called "tranny" on a daily basis by his neighbours but he feels there is no point reporting them to the police because his concerns wouldn't get taken seriously. His family are equally unsupportive so he can't wait to move out and attend college where he hopes he will be valued and treated with compassion.

Jacqueline told me that she was trying to find out who had send hate mail to her estranged parents about her because of her transgender status. The perpetrator was successfully prosecuted but she never found out who they were because her parents refused to tell her (despite "taking great delight" in revealing the contents of the letter) and the police refused to tell her, citing "confidentiality" as the main reason. This shows that trans hate crimes may end up with a perpetrator being prosecuted but without the intended victim ever finding out about it. Could this be considered a miscarriage of justice?

Finally there were trans people who wanted to reduce the hate crime label down to specific areas. Sophie suggested that most of the verbal abuse reports would be "petty", including any relating to trans-trans insulting. Toilet/bathroom wise Sophie said it depended on "whether they were public or private"; I'd say most respondents were thinking about being barred from public bathroom use but if their parents/siblings prevented them from using a bathroom in the house once they reveal their transgender status it could be perceived as a form of abuse and thus a hate crime. Interestingly Sophie didn't mention malicious communication, which could indicate either non-interest or unsure of her answer. With this mix of understanding on what constitutes hate offences, hate crimes and whether to report them, it is clear to see the police, LGBT charities and support services have a lot more to do raise awareness. But why would some trans people think even reporting an act of physical abuse as a trans hate crime might be a "waste of time"? 

Some suggestions offered as to why transgender hate crime legislation seems so ineffective:
  • Belief that there is "no such thing as hate crime"- that it has been created by "Luvvie Lefties" to hamper freedom of speech using "Political Correctness" banner. (That may be true when it comes to verbal abuse/online abuse but what about intimidation/sustained harassment/physical violence?)
  • Lack of education within the police force about hate incidents and hate crime generally-e.g. police and victims may not even see any hate incidents as "crimes", especially if they involve online abuse through emails/social media or is perpetrated by parents/siblings/family members.
  • Lack of awareness of how hate crime legislation can be seen through the transgender identity prism.
  • Is a PCSO equipped to deal with resolving hate crime alone? Should there always be a PC or senior PCSO with them to make sure they record the crime thoroughly and classify it correctly?
  • Innate prejudice of police officers/support services derived from environmental factors-e.g. religious preference/sexual orientation/political ideologies. Has the police officer/PCSO ever spoken to a trans person for any length of time before? Do they know how to handle a case sensitively-e.g. making sure to use correct pronouns, talk in an appropriate tone, be reassuring?
  • Not enough resources to deal with resolving hate crimes; police departments are overstretched due to budget cuts being implemented by Whitehall so there may be reductions in specialist front-line staff who are trained in dealing with LGBTQIA community issues.
  • Do the CPS ultimately believe they can take the perpetrator to court to be charged in the first place?
  • Will the CPS be able to secure any level of prosecution for the victim; if only 22 people were convicted under hate crime legislation, is it effective enough?
  • What if one person views it as hate crime even after a successful prosecution but 99 others don't- who will the public end up believing Will they ever believe the hate crime victim?
Conclusion:
At first glance, it appears that transphobic hate crimes are starting to be taken seriously by the police.  Peter Yeung's article has shown reporting rates have increased, especially among trans female victims. There appears to be a commitment from senior political and policing figures such as Angela Rayner, Shadow Women and Equalities Sec and Jane Sawyers, the National Police Chiefs lead for LGBT issues to increase training opportunities for police officers to give them the knowledge to "challenge hate and reduce the harm that it causes". However, as my survey and personal responses to hate incidents being categorised as transphobic hate crime have shown, public confidence in the police to deal with trans hate crime is dented at grassroots level. Successful criminal prosecutions have fallen,  hate crime reports are knowingly being filed under "cannot be bothered to investigate" and trans awareness of hate incidents and hate crime hasn't necessarily led to an increase in reporting amongst trans men. The progress has been satisfactory but there is no gold rosette in sight yet. I look forward to exploring ways of improving the reporting experience for trans people, talking to individuals such as my local LAGLO about what they believe will help reduce offending rates and increase reporting rates and working with charities such as Gender Free DV to address links between trans hate crime and trans domestic violence.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Ending the Silence: Addressing Domestic Violence in the Trans/ Non-Binary/ Queer Community

This month I've been very fortunate through my Twitter trans activism to connect with a rather fabulous group of volunteers (Gender Free DV) who have something really valid and important to say about domestic violence within the LGBTQIA community: trans, non-binary, queer and gender-fluid people feel completely locked out when trying to access domestic violence support services and local charities because of their chosen gender status. This has been made worse with the closure of Broken Rainbow, a UK national LGBT domestic abuse charity that provided telephone support and online chat service for victims which recently went into liquidation. Sean, one of the amazing volunteers at Gender Free DV who has reached out to provide a way for trans/non-binary/queer domestic abuse victims and survivors to voice their concerns and fears regarding UK domestic abuse support provision recently told me the closure of Broken Rainbow has led to a crisis which they are trying to address at grassroots level by engaging with local police and NHS service providers to help LGBTQIA people to get over their physical and emotional scars and to try and prosecute their persecutors in court. Gender DV aims to get providers to see beyond gender differences to allow every victim of domestic violence to access the support they need in a non-judgemental, appropriate way.

Just think about this: if you are a middle aged trans woman who has been abused for years by a female partner/ wife before, during and after your transition process either through financial blackmailing, physical/sexual assault or even attempted murder, you will feel helpless, unable to speak out for fear of being ridiculed. A trans woman should feel that they have a place to turn to where you will be offered a sympathetic ear by passionate, caring advisors. We have to remember that trans women may not have a strong support network out of their partnership/marriage, so who else can they turn to who understands their plight and  can reassure them it isn't their fault that they had to suffer such horrendous abuse?

A common slur that's used to delegitimise trans women's domestic abuse stories in particular is that their right to choose to change their bodies to align with their expressed gender choice makes them rightly open to abuse: "they should never have transitioned...they were asking for it" or that "they should have left their wife prior to making the decision transition...she didn't deserve the grief". Such opinions are outdated, referring to a dual binary system based purely on the biological sex organs that you just happen to have been unlucky to have be born with. Nobody deserves to be punished for exercising their rights as enshrined under the Human Rights Act (1998) under Article 10 - Right to freedom of expression and Article 14- Protection from Discrimination as guaranteed under the
Equality Act (2010) protected characteristic of Gender Reassignment. How you choose to identify gender wise is your own affair. Unfortunately trans people who are married can still be subject to a "spousal veto"- i.e. a partner can choose to deny you the right to transition or even to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) unless you gain a divorce from them. Even worse you have to be unmarried to gain a GRC anyways. Partners can use this fact against trans husbands/wives to coerce them to stay within an abusive relationship.  You can read more about the history behind the "spousal veto" in Sarah Brown's blogpost here: http://www.sarahlizzy.com/blog/?p=154.

Identifying Key Statistics:

Gender DV's  blogpost Evidencing the need for diverse DVA provision (July 2016) highlights the disappointing fact that trans survivor statistics are "not accurately recorded because the incidents are aggregated with reports relating to sexual orientation" - i.e. the organisations involved in recording stats for UK police forces/ Crown Prosecution Service/Home Office push trans stats in with LGB stats which can lead to a level of distortion which precludes specific reasons for trans domestic abuse. Gender DV decided to quote qualitative research conducted by LGBT Youth Scotland and Equality Network (2010) that has been collated from a range of trans DVA survivors to try and show the extent of the issue. Here are a few stats from that report:
  • 80% of trans respondents stated that they had experienced emotionally, sexually or physically abusive behaviour by a partner or ex-partner.
  •  18% felt that the most recent domestic abuse they experienced was "just something that happened".
  • 51% felt that the most recent domestic abuse they experienced was "wrong but not a crime."
  • 73% experienced abusive behaviours from partners or ex-partners which specifically aimed to oppress or invalidate the trans person's gender identity, undermine their ability to transition or to influence their decision about coming out to others.
  • 60% experienced threatening behaviour of some description.
  • 25% experienced a partner threatening suicide or self harm.
  • 32% were threatened with violence.
With such startling figures about UK trans domestic abuse being revealed by just two qualitative research bodies, it shows that domestic violence campaigners need to understand more about the dynamics of trans and non-binary relationships to help victims become survivors. What's more we need to conduct updated research to see whether the Equality Act has helped to increase the number of trans abuse victims and survivors speaking out about their experiences or whether the situation has remained depressingly static. Charities such as Gender Free DV can help to collate and deliver such information to show an accurate picture of trans/non-binary experience of DV and perhaps even extend to other underrepresented groups.

Exploring The Current Findings:

Gender Free DV have identified that trans people who are queer/non-binary are particularly at risk of gender invalidation because of  mainstream societal attitudes towards gender. Not knowing which support services you can turn to when you go are trying to escape an abusive relationship when you are non-binary only increases feelings of insecurity. All DV campaigners and providers should be aware of modern gender identity theory and act with respect, dignity and compassion when supporting trans, non-binary, queer and gender-fluid survivors.

Equally if a person hasn't yet transitioned in public and has only been able to express their chosen identity preference with their partner because they validated them, they may find it hard to talk about the abuse they are suffering because they don't want to lose this level of validation. Pre-transition abuse victims therefore may not talk to others about their transgender status and not attempt to seek any help and support outside the relationship.

It's certainly true that some people decide to date and be with trans people to "satisfy their curiosity". This may include seeing whether they can exercise a level of control over a trans partner to coerce them into performing sex acts for their own pleasure which is against a trans person's will- e.g. by penetrating their mouths to force them to provide oral sex relief or to place their mouths on a trans woman's penis (prior to transition) to enact oral sex. They may say that "they're doing a trans person a favour" by educating them on how to perform sexually in their new gender" or that "they're lucky anyone wants to have sex with them". This deliberate shaming tactic makes it less likely a trans person will speak out about being forced into unwanted sexual behaviour and rape.

Acts of domestic abuse can also stall a trans person's transition process; being bruised/full of cuts prior to meeting a GP for baseline tests may stop trans people from being referred to a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) because the GP may suspect self-harm and an instable state of mind as opposed to evidence of domestic abuse by a partner. Equally victims reporting domestic abuse openly may lead to advisors/GPs/clinicians arguing they are not in the "right frame of mind" to continue transitioning until they have recovered from the abuse they suffered. Sometimes the worst thing that can be done to a trans person who has survived domestic violence is to tell them they cannot continue using the hormones/attending the GIC they attended whilst in the relationship. It may make them ask "what reporting the abuse was all for" if it prevents them trying to identify fully with their chosen gender or non-gender .

What is most important for trans victims of domestic violence to understand is that it is a genderless crime, even under the UK definition of DV:“any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 and over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse: – psychological – physical – sexual – financial – and emotional.” Coercive or controlling behaviour is now punishable as an offence (December 2015) which can be committed by anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality and carries a maximum sentence of 5 years if found guilty. Any victim who experiences serious psychological and emotional abuse which falls short of physical abuse can now bring a case against their partner for this offence. Trans, non-binary and queer domestic abuse victims should be made aware of this change in the law.

How the LGBTQIA can help reduce trans/non-binary/gender-fluid/queer DV:

LGBTQIA people need to understand that:
  • "Outing" is a form of control- trans people may get threatened with being "outed" to their family/friends/colleagues/online before they are ready to reveal that they are changing their gender. The partner/ex partner may use the fact that the LGBTQIA community is relatively "close-knit" and propagate a sense of a lack of support for trans people outside the community to keep the trans person fearful of being "exposed".
  • Same sex financial blackmailing, sexual or physical assault within the home is domestic violence and can be reported to local police in the same way as heterosexual domestic violence.
  • It is essential to know how to respond if they believe a LGBTQIA friend is being abused by a partner and to try and spot warning signs of this- e.g. if their friend is eager to hide bruises/make excuses for cuts/emotional mood.
  • Don't encourage trans domestic abuse victims to stay "longer" in an abusive relationship in the vain hope their partner's behaviour will change as they continue through their transition process. Support them to leave by offering them a place or stay, reporting the abuse to the police ASAP and getting them in touch with a local DV charity or Genderfree DV who would be more than happy to help. You can find out more about the charity and their work here: https://genderfreedv.wordpress.com/ and contact them via Twitter here https://twitter.com/genderfreeDV