Friday, 31 December 2010

My year in Tweets

Twitter, it seems to me, is like an online diary, and when you look back at what you’ve tweeted it can serve as an aide memoire of the year that’s just gone. How else would I ever have remembered that at Easter I ate a slice of Simnel cake that confused my tongue, or that I started the year by making a ‘to do’ list, getting scared, and looking at Twitter instead? (Actually, I could’ve probably guessed that one). But you catch my drift: little, insignificant details of life, that would be lost forever, are preserved for posterity.

Naturally, the year up till May 6th (election day) was pretty much preoccupied with canvassing, leafleting and generally doing everything that might, just might, result in Green councillors getting onto Haringey Council for the first time ever. January saw me injure my back (I have never felt pain like it, and hope never to again). Consequently I spent two weeks lying on my back, making frantic ‘phone calls to fellow Haringey Greens, drugged up to the eyeballs on a potent mix of Tramadol and Valium. “Go on without me!” I wailed. “Canvass Inderwick Road! I need Woodstock Road done by next week!”

Soon I was back on my feet, albeit gingerly, getting soaked to the skin one night, complaining that I was entirely spherical the next due to excessive fleece wearing antics. The joys of canvassing alone in the dark, in the rain, with a torch in my mouth. Ah, sweet memories.

February saw me attend Green Party Conference in North Finchley, but a bus ride from my abode. I mused how nice that was – better than Blackpool. I spent my time at conference mainly talking tits, a subject I have become a bit of an expert on. (Translation: we passed the Breastfeeding Policy, and later in the year I would help run a ‘Keep Haringey Breastfeeding’ Campaign, which even saw me demand that Nick Ferrari of LBC look into his non-existent soul to see why boobfeeding so disturbed him).

I also had a bit of fun asking questions at Full Council Meetings. Will Haringey 'do a Kirklees'? No. Will Haringey do some good stuff for LGBT History month? No. Will Haringey follow the recommendations put forward by the London Assembly Environment Committee re: street trees? No, no, and thrice no. Now pack up your little bag and go home, wannabe councillor. I had much fun asking ‘supplementary questions’ which had little to do with the subject I was meant to be talking about and giving people a good laugh. Well, I mistook Haringey Civic Centre for the Comedy Club, what can I say? Fun times.

Every bizzare conversation and encounter that I had whilst canvassing is documented on Twitter, by the looks of it. I would have forgotten some of those gems if I hadn’t tweeted them. For example, on March 14th a voter galloped up to me, grabbed my arm and said “Excuse me, are you Lynne Featherstone?” Adopting my best helium-enhanced voice, I retorted “Indeed I am! And I think you should vote GREEN in Stroud Green!” (Actually, I didn’t say that at all. I think I just looked very confused, having been mistaken for a 60ish year old Lib Dem millionaire).

March saw me scrape rubbish from the cold earth with my bare hands at Granville Road Spinney, joyfully noting that the Lib Dems were out leafleting at the same time, but that ‘the pitchfork beats the leaflet, my yellow adversaries.’

As the elections fast approached, I decided to enlighten the Twitterati with ‘Cope’s Campaigning Tip of the Day.’ Starting with the priceless advice that one should always wear an interestingly-coloured nail varnish when leafleting, to make watching your hand do the posting more interesting, I continued to proffer utterly useless advice on a daily basis right up to polling day.

April dawned and I went canvassing with a cat, was asked out on a date on the doorstep by a woman called Syd (I declined, and lost a vote, no doubt), and took a rare trip out of Haringey, over the border into exotic, unknown Camden, where I was mightily impressed by Natalie Bennett’s performance at the Camden Square Neighbourhood Association hustings.

Late April, and our leaflet designer, Nadia, was talking about being ‘kissed by the creative muse’ as she was designing our ‘’We Can Do It! “ ‘eve of poll’ flyer. As election leaflets go, it was a corker and should probably be in an ‘Election Leaflets Museum’ if such a thing exists.

Voters continued to ask me difficult questions, such as the man who kissed my hand and demanded to know whether I was a ‘respectable woman’. I couldn’t lie. I couldn’t even have my breakfast in a cafĂ© in Crouch End without someone telling me that the first thing they’d seen that morning was “your face on my doormat.” I humbly apologised.

Election day dawned, and my tweets remind me just how bloody terrible I was feeling. Hardly any voice left, temperature soaring, aching all over and consequently off my face on cold remedies. Knocking-up was interesting, as I wasn’t sure what my name was by this point.

Off to the count we crawled, and sure enough, although we had more than doubled the vote in Strouders, we’d not done enough to get councillors. 16 months of hard slog came to an instant end, and I retreated under my duvet, coughing up phlegm the colour of Green Party day-glo posters, I record delightfully. What a truly luscious individual I am. Even more depressing than my snot was the news coming to me via twitter of the loss of all but two of our councillors across London. Like every other Green, I had to repeat to myself for, ooh, 6 months, “but we have our first MP. We have our first MP…”

Next up I was applying for jobs, and getting myself all hot and bothered about my unemployability. Then I decided to be less bothered, possibly because I couldn’t face any more rejection – sob!

Instead I devoted myself to being a Proper Mother and taking my daughter on an endless assortment of edifying day trips. Margate (depressing if characterful ), Broadstairs (ice cream parlour…), Hastings (Funiculaaaar!), Eastbourne (count the mobility scooters), Whitstable (oysters – mmm…), Sandwich (because I liked the name), Deal (because it was near Sandwich). In short, we had FUN, which is something that had been put on ice for far too long.

I visited Norfolk for a week , where I made it my mission to eat crab every day. I succeeded in this, so hurrah for some belated success. Back in London, I got involved with the fantastic Transition Crouch End, where I met a rather nice woman called Tilly. She and I enjoyed rolling tyres at each other in the sunshine (we grew veg, fruit and flowers in the tyres, so there was a point to this activity, I stress).

I did seem to write a lot of blog posts, particularly post-election (lots of posts slagging off the Lib Dems - they've make is so easy), and I even met some people who read my blog, so that was good. (This lengthy post should put paid to that, eh…?). I also had singing lessons this Autumn onwards, and it turns out I have quite a good voice. As I told my singing teacher, Margaret, earlier today, learning to sing has been one of my highlights of 2010.

Well, I think that’s enough about my year. I did some stuff, some of it fun, some of it tricky. I didn’t succeed at some things, other endeavours (crab eating, tyre-rolling, aria-singing) were more successful.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Demonstrating about Lynne Featherstone's Betrayal

Today, alongside other Green Party activists, I took part in a demo at Crouch End clock tower, after our local Lib Dem MP, Lynne Featherstone, betrayed constituents by going back on her pre-election pledge on tuition fees.

I spoke at the demo, where I said that having spent the 16 months running up to the elections knocking on doors in the area, I knew how well-regarded Ms. Featherstone used to be. "She replies to my letters," people would tell me, time and time again. Yes, I agreed, in that respect she is a good constituency MP.

However, this week, in ignoring her constituents and voting for reforms that will price poorer students out of a university education, she has committed political suicide.

The Lib Dems are hoping that we will have forgotten this huge betrayal by the time the next election comes around, but we won't have forgotten. My fear is not that the Lib Dems have damaged their party for good (which they have), but that voters will trust political parties even less than they did previously.

"What's the point of voting?" some residents have said to me, previously. "You're all the same. You say one thing, get into power, and go back on your word." And when it comes to the Lib Dems, they're spot on.

As I pointed out to the crowd today, though, the Green Party have consistently opposed tuition fees and are continuing to do so in the House of Commons, through our MP, Caroline Lucas, who of course voted against the rise in tuition fees this week.

We believe that if the money can be found to bail out the banks and fund an illegal war, it can damn well be found to pay for education.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Featherstone, the fairweather 'feminist'

On a day when there was, to quote Johann Hari, 'shameful massive vandalism in Westminster: the Tories and Lib Dems voted to smash up our universities & chance of poor kids getting on', there was at least one thing to have a bit of a laugh about, albeit a slightly bitter one.

Yesterday there was a women's protest about how tuition fee rises would affect women, outside Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone's surgery. Ms. Featherstone was asked to comment about this by the local paper. Claiming she hadn't decided what way she was going to vote (she voted for the increase today - surprise, surprise), she added that the women were 'demonstrating in the wrong place' and that 'there is no one more feminist than me.'

(I'll leave a little gap here whilst you compose yourselves...)

(Have you quite finished laughing? Good).

Now, there are lots of people with differing views who define themselves as a feminist. But taking a look at how the cuts will affect women, let's consider whether someone who is a 'feminist' would be happy to go along with these measures...

- CUTS TO JOBS - Two-thirds of public sector workers are women, with women accounting for 73% of the local government workforce and 77% of the NHS workforce. Women will be forced out of the labour market in larger numbers than men and expected to take on the care of loved ones – children, elderly relatives, partners. Part-time and hourly paid jobs in which women are over-represented are also likely to be the first to go. 40% of ethnic minority women live in poverty and this figure is likely to rise as unemployment increases.

- CUTS IN SOCIAL SERVICES AND BENEFITS - women rely on benefits twice as much as men do. For example, cuts in Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits, Child Benefit, Housing Benefit and linking pensions to the Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index will disproportionately affect women. The two most vulnerable groups have been identified as lone parents, 90% of whom are women, and women single pensioners.

So far, not quite fitting in with my notion of feminism - how about yours?

Let's look at Featherstone's latest work as Equalities Minister. Surely she's got to be earning some feministing points there? Last week she repealed Labour's plan to tackle the gender pay gap. The Equality Act required businesses with more than 250 employees to publish data on how much they pay women and men. Last week Featherstone announced that the system would be voluntary. Yet in 2008, Featherstone said "a voluntary audit system for private industry is hardly worth the paper it's written on." Quite!

I think, Ms. Featherstone, you need to do a little feminist bedtime reading. I live just down the road - I'll bring some books round. Just say the (f) word.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Fawcett's day in court

I'm just back from the extremely cold protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice, held whilst the hearinge to decide whether there will be a Judicial Review of the budget, called for by the Fawcett Society, took place inside. The Judicial Review was sought because it was clear that the Government hadn't carried out a gender impact assessment before implementing the budget. Women will bear the brunt of the cuts, especially lone mothers and pensioners, with over two thirds of the £8.5 bn cuts in the June budget coming from women. Fair? Hardly. Here's something worth shouting about, and angrily.

The assembled women, including my almost-four-year-old daughter (pictured above with her Green Party placard), made our objections known very loudly, in the hope that the men in wigs inside would hear us.

We await the result of Fawcett's actions, which will very much be a test case for the Gender Equality Duty, establishing whether it is an important new approach to gender equality, or whether it's simply a case of 'business as usual'.