On Thursday we had “Top Totty”, one of those 24-hour news stories so beloved by the media, trivial in some respects but capable of endless discussion and debate. I RT’d a pic of the offending beer pump, complete with Playboy bunny, which meant I then got asked to comment for Huffington Post but I soon got bored of the conversation which went down tediously predictable lines… Accusations of MPs being sour-faced humourless feminists, doing anything for a cheap headline and “aren’t there more important things to be worrying about”?
First, the issue… It might seem pretty pointless to be complaining about one beer in the Strangers Bar when we are surrounded by sexist advertising everywhere we go. But a) this is the House of Commons, and surely should maintain a certain gravitas and certain standards, and b) this is a workplace (and not just any workplace but one where women have to cope constantly with public references to being Blair Babes, Cameron Cuties, Mili’s Fillies, etc… In fact we had an event in Parliament last week to talk about this, where Janet Street-Porter told us all to stop whinging.) Oh, and just for the record, to all those on Twitter who seemed to think “what about David Beckham in his pants!” was a compelling counter-argument. We don’t have pictures of David Beckham in his pants in the Strangers Bar.
Second point… Every Thursday in the Commons we have a Business Statement from Sir George Young, the Leader of the House, where he tells us what’s going on in the next couple of weeks. This is the one chance MPs get to raise any issue they want, by the simple device of asking ‘can we find time for a debate on X, Y or Z?’ And that’s what Kate Green did – and it took all of 30 seconds to do it.
Third point – the day before Parliament debated the Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill. Kate Green spoke in this debate, not at length because we were on time limits and the Tories were trying to talk things out, but she made, as ever hugely incisive and impressive
contributions. I’ve known Kate since her days as the Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group and her leading role in the End Child Poverty coalition. She is the one MP the rest of us turn to when we want advice and detailed information on the impact of the Government’s cuts and so-called reforms. She is the acknowledged expert. She’s doing great work now as Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, with organisations such as the Women’s Budget Group, exposing how this Government’s actions are hitting women, children, the disabled and the vulnerable the hardest. The Tories listen to her in silence and with respect, because they know she knows what she’s talking about. They are also a little bit scared of her, not least because she persuaded so many of them to sign up to the Keep the Promise campaign (to end child poverty) before the last election – a nice little photo-op for them, compassionate Conservatism, aren’t we cuddly and nice – and they know that she knows they have no intention of keeping that promise. (Same goes for Lib Dems too, but they don’t seem to realise quite how comprehensively they’re reneging on that pledge; they bleat about the pupil premium, which does nothing to raise household incomes and lift kids out of poverty).
But has any of Kate’s work on these very serious, very important issues got one iota of the attention that “Top Totty” got? No, of course not. It’s tear-your-hair-out frustrating, but it’s the territory within which we operate. Can I suggest that to all those in the media who are saying “haven’t you got anything better to worry about” that they ask themselves the same question and start reporting the serious stuff too?