Further thoughts on political party conferences

Over a year ago, I posted this entry about political party conferences. Having just experienced my first UK political party conference (rather than just a Scottish party conference), I have some additional thought which may or may not be of interest. 

First, the expense: You guessed it, even more prohibitive than the Scottish costs. At one point we thought it was going to cost £800 for me to attend – and I was only going in order to chair one 75 minute long fringe meeting. Because of an administrative error on the part of the organisers I got in for free in the end. (Take that!)

And why was I chairing the meeting anyway? UK conferences are attended by UK staff. Well, it was in Glasgow so I was on hand, and the panel of the event we had been asked to support was all male, so as a democracy organisation we felt my presence as a woman as chair would be, useful. Turns out we were practically the only people who thought this. The VAST majority of the event panels were all male, with only a handful including even a single woman. The entire New Statesmen three day event series had male speakers. 

Unsurprisingly therefore, the audiences are also predominantly male. I’m speaking at an event this week on women and voting so I’ll be raising this there and asking what can be done to involve women more in politics, especially if panels continue to be gender biased towards men.

Anyway, the most thought-provoking aspect of conference this time was not the paucity of gender balance. It was the profligacy. 

As mentioned, it costs a small fortune to attend party conference, more to have an exhibition stand, more to host a fringe, and more again to have refreshments at your fringe event. Then you add in accommodation, additional expenses, travel, and its a pretty large chuck of most organisations’ budgets. 

I appreciate political parties need to raise money, especially as membership is on such a steep decline. 

But. All your elected politicians are paid from the public purse. And if you are in government you receive an additional income. And if you aren’t you still get public funding through short money. 

I don’t object to this. I would MUCH prefer equally divided public funding for political parties than watch ‘donors’ receive peerages or preferential treatment. 

But… Why really must parties spend so much (and require others to spend so much) in holding regular conferences? Not all the membership attend. Policy positions don’t change because of party members input at conference. Online voting on motions would be much more democratic and transparent. 

And I think it was walking back up to the SECC after popping out for a sandwich that really brought this home to me. 

The food stands in the exhibition hall were closed when I arrived. Instead there were copious amounts of free wine (and juice), for the assembled masses to enjoy whilst being geed up by the party chairman. And I mean copious amounts. I’m not objecting, it was nice wine.

But then I started thinking about who had paid for it. A donor seeking advantage? The party looking to placate the membership? And whoever had footed the bill at the end of the day I couldn’t help but be struck at the contrast. The contrast between the suited and booted, 90% white, wine drinkers cheerfully greeting each other whilst surrounded by stands from Battersea Power Station, Sky News, the Falkland Islands, the Tobacco Retailers Alliance et al, and the Glasgow just beyond the armadillo. I don’t think Glasgow’s food banks lay on wine receptions.

Glasgow has the most workless households in the UK. It is the third worst city in the UK for child poverty – at a cost to the city of almost £400m annually. 

I take the point that all those carousing Lib Dems will bring money into the city, and the staff at the SECC will be working flat out when they might not have been. 

But (I’ve used but a lot in this post), but… Imagine if a political party cancelled conference. If instead they and their corporate sponsors used the money they would have spent glad-handing to fund anti-poverty programmes, to help invigorate cities, to tackle homelessness. 

Obviously it would be even better if Government just paid for all that and didn’t introduce regressive and harmful polices like the bedroom tax, but, just imagine. Or even imagine inviting disadvantaged children for a decent meal, instead of providing wine to the membership. 

Maybe even a handful of organisations could decide they weren’t paying to attend conference because the money would be better spent on the servies they provided, services necessary because of Government failings. Or maybe the corporate sponsors could donate their contribution to their worthwhile cause of choice. 

And maybe pigs might fly.

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On misogyny

The Oxford English dictionary defines misogyny as:

“dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women”

which by all accounts is a developed definition which is meant to capture the usage of the word more than it’s strict Greek roots. 

Is this developmental change in how we use the word – and indeed how women use the word – part of the problem men have with accepting the label?

Because frequently misogynists will tell you they “don’t hate women”. But I’m more interested in your cultural, knee-jerk attitude – indeed, your ingrained prejudice. 

I accept that a man who blames a woman for not divorcing an abusive husband does not “hate women” but he does have a compeltely skewed understanding of the position of women in society and of the realities of abusive relationships for the abused partner. 

I accept that a man who says women could succeed in politics if they just tries harder does not “hate women” but he does fail to grasp the long-standing historical barriers that even 21st century entrants into politics must overcome.

I accept that allowing someone to represent your party despite being given evidence of their abusive character towards women does not mean you “hate women” but it does mean you are complicit in allowing someone whose personal life indicates a shall we say shaky attitude towards equality to continue working in an influential position despite their ingrained prejudice. 

So if I call you out on your misogyny, rather than shouting at me with your instantaneous outrage that I dare to do so, maybe you should consider why I am using such a powerful word. Perhaps it’s to try and counter your abuse of power. And perhaps your failure to consider my rationale is just one more example of your ingrained prejudice that you are somehow superior to me. And perhaps your not seeing your own misogyny is why feminists talk about structural barriers as well as individual hurdles. Remember the word ingrained. Not intentional (necessarily), not something you have done deliberately (necessarily) but an ingrained attitude you have betrayed and I have pointed out. Now fix it. 

If William Hague would like a red card…

So, William Hague thinks we should be able to show certain EU policies a red card.

That’s nice William. The BBC article doesn’t detail which policies Mr Hague would see worthy of a red card. But I can imagine… Rules on freedom of movement, on regulating industries, on environmental protection.

And I see why, from an ideological viewpoint that the Conservatives would be interested in curtailing the powers of the EU. They see it as a threat to their national power and sovereignty. I see it as a way to bring all of Europe together on an equal playing field, where every European citizen can have a stake in decisions which do have wider implications than within national boundaries.

But what really frustrates me, is it that it’s gone beyond an ideological objection to become some kind of principled position which disregards any positive implications of working in Europe, and forgets the negative implications of ignoring what after all is a position that has been agreed to across the EU so must have something going for it.

To take my examples above:

Freedom of movement – we’re told Britain will be invaded by ‘benefits tourists’ from Eastern Europe. We forget that we can travel and work freely within the EU, benefiting our economy and our cultural development. And we don’t ask why we’re so attractive to Eastern Europeans, and whether more could be done within the EU to share the wealth and thus avoid the catch 22 of countries such as the UK being attractive, despite our financial woes, because we are still better off than Hungary, Romania, Greece… 

Regulating industries – I could go into detail about energy industries and how ignoring or subverting EU rules that are designed to protect the industry whilst also looking to move to a low carbon future is digging our own grave, but, there is an example that has received far more headlines. The regulation of food production. The EU brought in laws to better regulate the production of ready meals, burgers etc etc. The UK took an opt out. And then it turned out a whole bunch of pre-prepared food has stuff in it that we weren’t aware of. What could have prevented this, the headlines screamed. Um, adopting the EU regulations?

Environmental protection – The EU is far from perfect in its environmental legislation, don’t get me wrong. But a lot of what it is trying to do at an EU wide level is essential. Fighting climate change. Reducing energy use. Protecting marine wildlife. Criminalising harmful pesticides. To opt out is to undermine the necessity of pan-European action AND destabilises the project.

So I have a plan. If William Hague thinks he should get to show EU policies he doesn’t like a red card, I think we, the people, should get to show William’s cabinet colleagues a red card when they suggest policies we don’t like. I’m thinking we’d get a lot more positive use out of our red cards than Hague would. And I’m pretty certain our use of red cards would have a positive influence, and would protect our socio-economic goods and natural resources, for the good of both current and future generations, in the UK, the EU, and globally. 

Check your privilege

Recently the very awesome Shelagh McKinlay introduced me to the concept of ‘checking your privilege’.

It’s been rattling around in my brain for the past wee while, and I like idea increasingly as time wears on. 

It’s like a less fun version of the playing a game as a straight white male is the easy option analysis which I have mentioned before.

However, less fun may also equal more practical and inclusive.

So, at the risk of being entirely subjective but without suggesting this list will be comprehensive in any way shape or form, or that the order of factors means anything (at this stage), or that in and of themselves these characteristics hold merit or not, I would like to start a collection of characteristics for which you should ‘check your privilege’. If any one of these things applies to you, then when thinking about the impact of your words, deeds or opinions, stop for a moment to consider walking in the shoes of a person without that privilege. The more of the characteristics you can apply to yourself, the more you should be considering others without those privileges before you offer your thoughts, opinions, actions, to the world. In my opinion. 

I’d be interested in comments, additions etc.

Check Your Privilege

White

Male

Straight

University educated

Finished high school

Employed on a permanent, full time contract

In a (loving, nurturing, caring) relationship

Able-bodied

Mentally healthy

A home owner

On the electoral roll

Solvent

Attractive

Good family relationships

A licensed driver

A passport holder

Have experienced travel abroad

Physically healthy

Part of a network of friends

Access to the internet

Own a mobile phone

Own a television

Own a laptop or tablet device

Have taken a holiday away from home in the past 12 months