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My British Asian Armpits4August experience

by Guest     August 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm

by Taran Bassi

For those of you who are unaware this past month has seen a campaign called ‘Armpits4August’ take place.

Confused? Well think of it like this – Movember for women, but for our armpits. Organised to raise awareness of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) that affects many women it is urging others to explore a main side effect; excessive hair growth.

Although being Asian guarantees me to have an eternal golden tan there is another consequence that is kept a closely guarded shameful secret by fellow Asian females. We are hairy. There I said it and I have exposed my fellow sisters!

The majority of Asian females are hairy and those who insist they are not are either one in a million or simply lying. As if being hairy and living in a society obsessed with strict hair free ideas of beauty was not bad enough – our hair is dark and therefore so much more visible.

The focus placed on British Asian females to be hair free is more complex than the narrow ideals of beauty within Western society and the fear of being viewed as ‘masculine’.

Instead, to be hairy and to embrace this is seen as a hesitation and challenge to fitting into a Western way of life. Within British Asian beauty guides and advice columns the obsession with hair removal is on par with the obsession to be light skinned.

Now – I have long battled with this and found myself trying to justify my hair removal regime to be necessary as my dark hair is more noticeable than that of my blonde-haired acquaintances. But I decided to stop feeling shameful about my body hair and I have spent the past month participating in Armpits4August.

My experience? Well it seems that many people felt compelled to be offended on my behalf for my own body hair. I had no issue in wearing sleeveless tops, but I was surprised by the reactions of others.

They ranged from being asked simply if I was a lesbian? To being branded ‘disgusting’ and even being told that luckily for me my face was pretty enough to pull off hairy armpits – erm thanks? What I have learnt is that body hair scares many. Especially dark visible hair.

My physical challenge to beauty norms allowed others to consider me to be vile, unhygienic (I actually smell really nice) and strange. But what I think is really strange is how the idea of a hairless woman is now accepted as a norm, even though all humans have body hair.

I have the option to remove the hair that I have grown for the last month and escape this criticism, but for those with PCOS the solution is not as simple as that.

So before judging a female for being ‘hairy’ and labelling her as ‘weird/dirty/gross’ just remember it is just hair – and the only thing strange is not its presence, but your own narrow minded reaction.


Taran Bassi blogs here and tweets from here.

Ten ways to win your online petition-driven campaign (at Change.org)

by Guest     August 28, 2013 at 9:10 am

by Katherine Sladden

Since launching in the UK in May 2012, Change.org – the world’s largest petition site – has seen its UK user base grow to almost 3 million people, starting, joining and winning campaigns on issues they care about.

What makes some petitions fly and why do some not catch the imagination? Here are my ten top tips for using the site to win your campaign.

1. Tell your story
When Nic Hughes died of cancer and his life insurance company refused his family’s claim, his best friend Kester wanted to fight for justice. Kester didn’t bother explaining the in-and -outs of the insurance claim, he simply told the story of his incredible friend and the family he left behind. It was enough to get 60,000 backers who helped secure a pay-out for the Hughes family. Not everyone loves causes – but we all love a story. Tell yours.

2. Don’t be so formal
“We the undersigned” is the least engaging first sentence ever. The best petitions on Change.org read like a news story not a policy briefing. Be engaging and use simple language – it won’t just be your supporters that understand the issue better, it will probably be more convincing to the decision makers to.

3. It’s not a petition, it’s a community
Everyone that signs your petition is someone saying ‘I agree with you and I want to help’. Get them to help you. You can email the people that sign your petition through Change.org so think about what you can ask them to do. Kester got his supporters to call up the insurance company, Caroline got women to dress up as historical figures and turn up outside the Bank of England. You’ll often be surprised by the enthusiasm of your supporters.

4. Don’t get hung up on numbers
Thanks to the government’s e-petition site, 100,000 signers has become a defacto figure for petition success. The parliamentary debate idea is a myth (lots of petitions lower than 100k have been discussed; while lots at 100k haven’t). It’s not the numbers on your petition that matter, it’s the campaign that goes with it. The vast majority of winning campaigns on Change.org have far less than 100k supporters.

5. It’s not all about Twitter
Forget Stephen Fry’s Twitter feed (as lovely as he is) building movements online is about storytelling, Facebook and email. If you really want to get your campaign trending on Twitter or get a bunch of new signers – send an email. Twitter is where you can speak to media and celebs but Facebook and email are better for new signers and engagement. Use them all.

6. Find the little big thing
When the Bank of England announced that Elizabeth Fry would no longer be on a five pound note Caroline Criado Perez thought it said something profound about how women’s’ achievements are celebrated. She won her now infamous campaign and by doing so inspired a huge media debate about sexism. Big issues are important, but can be tough to make sound urgent. Think about the little thing that makes the big thing come to life.

7. React fast
When Jo, a sexual abuse survivor, heard that a lawyer and judge had referred to an abuse victim as “predatory” she started a petition. It was up and running before the press have even picked up the story. By that afternoon she had thousands of supporters, the next day she was telling her story to the media and soon charities and the Prime Minister spoke out in support. Less than 48 hours later she had won her campaign.

8. Put yourself in the target’s shoes to change their mind
Take some time to think about who is the most important decision maker you are trying to reach and what motivates them – their brand, customers, voters. Then break down your campaign to target each of those elements.

9. Celebrate every win
What motivates supporters is winning. If you get a result, even if it is small, tell them and celebrate it. Releasing the power you have to make change is addictive and gets people coming back for more.

10. Victory comes in lots of forms: be agile
IDS doesn’t live on £53 per week. Lucy hasn’t won her campaign to get topless images off Page 3 – but both campaigns have had impact in different ways. For one week in April the debate on welfare shifted – while for twelve months media sexsim has been highlighted through Lucy’s campaign. Embrace progress, report it back to supporters and keep campaigning.

The EU is still in trouble and needs to face its inner-demons

by Guest     August 26, 2013 at 1:02 pm

by John Stephenson

Those with an eye for economic optimism will have had their eyes on the Eurozone in the last two weeks, as the European Union announced a return to growth following almost 18 months of economic decline.

Then again, it will be economists with a nose for political rabble-rousing that may sense a sort of bureaucratic-bluff from the likes of Mario Draghi, Oli Rehn and co.

Instead this recovery has been for the most part intergovernmental, increasing the level of tension between heads of states and allowing a Franco-German alliance to play Napoleon over smaller members.

“No one should believe that another half century of peace in Europe is a given – it’s not” was the ominous tone set by Merkel just two years ago. This was on the back of Germany bailing out its fellow Eurozone members, a move agreed upon in the German parliament, leading to riots within the streets of Athens.

Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, came to the fore following economic turmoil within the Europe, pledging that he and his colleagues would see that Brussels does “whatever it takes” in order to return to prosperity.

One measure announced was the proposed purchasing of the bonds and debts of weak member states in order to buttress a recovery. This never happened.

In fact evidence suggests that such moves are futile in attempting to resolve an economic downturn, due to the affinity that countries, safe in the knowledge that they have a fall-back option if things go awry, have for taking risks.

In January 2011 the EU saw through new legislation designed to combat the recession. This consisted of minimum requirements for national fiscal frameworks and sanctions against countries running up huge deficits. What is bemusing however is the emphasis put on such measures when evidence strongly suggests that the effect such behaviour has is almost wholly reliant on prior circumstances which are not being addressed by the Union.

The Eurozone is liable to fall into the same difficulties it has done previously if any of the member states experience renewed instability in the coming years.

Furthermore, the policy provisions in place to protect against further insolvency appear fundamentally flawed. How are we to have a financial union if the EU remains the “lender of last resort” to member states following a financial crisis? The answer given from Brussels is budgetary consolidation, to ensure that such problems never occur again, thus rendering any bail-outs unnecessary. Yet the IMF’s own figures show that for countries such as Greece and Ireland to attain debt ratios of 60% of GDP by 2030, they would have to maintain budgetary adjustments over 10%.

If the likes of Draghi and Barroso are to really deserve a pat on the back, then they need to enforce measures such as further fiscal union and a more powerful ECB. The argument over “more or less Europe” is becoming tiresome and to see technocrats in preparation for celebration is nauseating.

The EU needs to make decisions now and it needs to make them fast. To lumber around while sitting on the fence will no longer cut it. In fact, it never did and I imagine the founding fathers of the EC will be turning in their graves seeing EU officials commend the union as being on track while unemployment in Spain remains at 25%.

John Stephenson tweets from here: @JohnStephenso14

In France, austerity being used to undermine the state pensions system

by Guest     August 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm

by Tom Gill

A showdown between the French Government and unions is looming over reforms to the country’s ‘generous’ pension system.

Strikes and protests are scheduled for September 10 in response to plans by the Socialist administration of President Francois Hollande to extend the 41.5-year contribution payment period required for a full pension and other possible changes.

Hollande has indicated he has no intention of touching the retirement age that former President Nicolas Sarkozy raised to 62 from 60, having fulfilled a campaign pledge to roll it back for those who started work early. Nor is he minded to trim annual pension increases to below inflation, another option under consideration.

Employers berate the President for timidity, and say more cuts to the system are needed to plug an expected 20 billion euro funding gap in the system by 2020.

‘We cannot wait any longer and be content with half-measures because our pension system is in a disastrous state,’ the new head of France’s Medef employers organisation Pierre Gattaz wrote in an op-ed in Le Monde newspaper this week

Medef will be making this point at a meeting with the government and unions on Monday and Tuesday, when Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is expected to formally outline the reform plans.

Gattaz said it was ‘urgent’ to review pension arrangements allowing the military, police and others to retire much younger, although Hollande is expected to leave them unchanged too.

The head of the Medef employers’ group also called for France’s state-dominated pension system to be curtailed and a bigger role given to privately funded pensions.

Public spending on pensions is 14.4 percent of output in France versus 12.9 percent in the EU.

Businesses in the eurozone’s second-largest economy, which has just exited recession, fret about a prospective rise in payroll taxes as part of the pension system reform. Gattaz claims that increasing their contributions would hurt employment further at a time when more people are out of a job in France than ever before.

And it is not just employers breathing down Hollande’s neck – the European Commission is reportedly looking for indications that the government is serious about ‘reform’ in exchange for agreeing some loosening of the country’s timetable in reigning in its deficit.

Hollande is right to fear a popular backlash against changes to the country’s pensions system. All past attempts – including under Sarkozy – have encountered weeks of demonstrations and costly industrial strikes.

But is ‘reform’ – in the modern turn-the-clock-back meaning of the word – inevitable?

First, it is important to clear up the nonsense that pensions are generous in France – the average pension is only 60 percent of working-age post-tax income, versus the 69 percent average for industrialised countries. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/07/21/uk-france-pensions-analysis-idUKBRE96K02W20130721

Second, companies will be able to claw back much of the rise in employer contributions (+ 0.1%, or 3 billion euros) expected in the changes, through tax breaks, and they will still be paying less than they did 20 odd years ago, point out Catherine Mills, from the University of Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne, and Frederick Rauch, editor of the journal Économie et Politique.

Third, the problem is not the cost of the system per se, but the lack of funds to underpin it. In an article in L’Humanite newspaper http://www.humanite.fr/social-eco/des-propositions-alternatives-pour-le-financement-547054 Mills and Rauch point out that this is due to rising unemployment and downward pressure on wages, the result of austerity policies pursued in France and Europe, and the fact that firms are more than ever putting shareholders before employees.

Firms now pay out twice as much to their owners and for their financing needs than on payroll taxes. Indeed, the proportion of companies’ financial resources handed out as dividends has risen from 30% to 80% since the end of the 1980s, according to a report in Alternatives Economiques. http://www.alternatives-economiques.fr/pourquoi-les-entreprises francaises_fr_art_1217_63975.html And a tidy 100 billion euros were pocketed by fat cat shareholders of France’s largest companies in the three years to 2011 alone.

The two economists calculate that a drop in the wages paid by employers of 1% costs the pension system 800 million euros in revenue. When the country has 100,000 more unemployed, the pension system loses 1 billion euros in funding. Thanks to economic rigor in France and across the Continent, the country now has over 10% out of work. ‘Thus boosting employment and wages is the key to making the pension system sustainable,’ say Mills and Rauch.

All of which implies an end to the mad, self-defeating austerity policies prevailing across Europe, and a radical ‘reform’ (in the traditional sense of the word) of the capitalist system.

—-
Tom Gill blogs at www.revolting-europe.com

The Labour vote is actually the strongest of all parties

by Guest     August 23, 2013 at 9:00 am

by Neil Foster

How strong is Labour’s support right now? YouGov have just published the full data tables from a poll they recently conducted for Prospect last month.

What I find interesting is that contrary to the suggestion from some areas of the press that Labour’s support is ‘soft’, it actually is the firmest of all the four leading parties.

The poll asked:
‘The next general election is due to be held in May 2015. Have you decided definitely how you will vote then, or will you wait until nearer the time before deciding how to vote?’

55% of respondents said they’ve ‘definitely decided how to vote’, 42% said they’d wait nearer to the time and remainder didn’t know. However it’s the party breakdown of those who’ve already decided vote that will give cheer to Labour.

Two years away from a general election 66% of current Labour supporters say will definitely vote for the party, compared to 58% of Conservatives supporters who say they will vote for their preferred party.

The Liberal Democrats however can only rely on 33% of their current supporters to definitely turn out and vote for them – which must be alarming given the much-reduced poll figure since the general election. 42% of UKIP supporters say they will definitely vote for their party which is a big enough figure to worry the Conservatives and make a mockery of those who hope that UKIP support will return closer to the 3.5% they picked up in 2010 by the time of the next election.

The poll then asked those who were currently intending to vote for the Conservatives, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats whether they would consider backing Labour at the next election. 18% of current Conservative supporters said they would, 30% of UKIP supporters said they’d consider voting for Ed Miliband’s party and a sizeable 46% of current Liberal Democrat supporters said they would consider voting Labour as well.

There is real cause for encouragement from this poll. Not only is Labour resting on the firmest electoral foundations of all four parties, but that it has the potential to win many more supporters, although by and large not from Conservatives.

There is a gulf between poll leads and election victories and turnout and enthusiasm really matters. Labour’s poll lead over the Conservatives may fluctuate but do not make the mistake of thinking this must mean support for Ed Miliband’s party is ‘soft’.

These YouGov findings for Prospect show that in the run up to 2015 Labour’s support is currently the firmest of them all.

Balcombe is a wake up call for local communities over Fracking

by Guest     August 21, 2013 at 9:30 am

by Philip Pearson

As Caroline Lucas MP was arrested at the Balcombe fracking site (19 August) she spoke of the “democratic deficit” being so enormous that “people are left with very little option but to take peaceful, non violent direct action.”

In 2012 the TUC’s annual Congress opposed gas fracking. Motion 43: “The principle of precaution should be applied when developing new energies and the health of people and the environment should be put before profit.”

And this summer, speaking up for gas fracking, the Prime Minister told the Express, “I want all parts of our nation to share in the benefits: North or South, Conservative or Labour … we can expect to see lower energy prices in this country.”

Balcombe jpeg lorry

From Balcombe

But will gas fracking will mean lower energy prices? Not according to Alistair Buchanan , chief executive of Ofgem, the energy regulator: “It is true that the US has transformed its energy market thanks to shale, but in our time-frame, when Britain will rely on gas for its power stations, this is not going to happen on any significant scale, either here or elsewhere in Europe.

Even if the US allows exports (and assuming they come to Europe), it will still cost about the same as we are paying for our winter gas now. No one doubts that there is plenty of gas out there, but what is critical to Britain is how much will be available over the next five years and how much we will have to pay for it to ensure that it comes here.”

Does public support count? The Prime Minister argued over the summer that “If neighbourhoods can see the benefits – and get reassurance about the environment – then I don’t see why fracking shouldn’t get real public support.” But what if it doesn’t? The NoFIBs petition (No Facking In Balcombe Society) was supported by 82% of local residents. It, too, is based on the precautionary principle:

The work of Cuadrilla poses an unacceptable level of risk to our water supply, air purity and overall environment. We, the undersigned, stand opposed to exploratory drilling or fracking for gas or oil because we believe that these activities put human health at risk, both of those living close to wells, but also of those whose water comes from an affected area.

The TUC motion originated from protests supported by trade unions and community organisations in the North West, where Cuadrilla first made the earth tremor. It adds: “The fracking method of gas extraction should be condemned unless proven harmless for people and the environment. This type of energy production is not sustainable as it relies on a limited resource. Until now, there is evidence that it causes earthquakes and water pollution and further investigation should be carried out before any expansion.”

Balcombe drill

In a field outside Balcombe village…

What of the environment? At Balcombe on a day visit, I had a long conversation with a local resident about the diverse environmental impacts of Cuadrilla’s drilling operation – see photo. The continuous noise, vibration and 24-hour lighting had driven birdlife, bats and badgers away. She feared the long term effects of injecting millions of gallons of chemical laden water to frack the gas on water pollution – the water table lies at 700 feet below ground level, the shale gas at 3000 feet down, so the drill pierces the water table. A few days later we also spoke about methane gas escapes and flaring.

She said, “We’ve been ignored. The petition, our planning objections, letters to MPs, our demonstrations haven’t stopped them. 10,000 people might.”

Who fills the gap politics has vacated? Speaking at the a recent Friends of the Earth meeting, John Ashton, for ten years the government’s roving climate change ambassador, argued that the struggle on climate change “is now entering a decisive phase.” The words Must, Now, Can should guide our thinking: “We must do whatever it takes. Otherwise the consequences of climate change will undermine security and prosperity. We must build a carbon neutral energy system, within a generation.”

But, he said, “The fact is, we can’t fix the climate problem, or any of the other problems on the agenda you have set, unless we can now fix politics itself. ” His prescription is to “Fill the gap that politics has vacated. Connect with the base of society. Mobilise coalitions to offer people solutions to problems that politics in its current form ignores. And do that on the basis of a more strategic assessment than I suspect you have of what is to be done and where you can change the game.”

And, as I was speaking with a local resident last week, a child ran by: “I love waking up in the morning here!” she said.

How charities are trying to help the most vulnerable from the cuts

by Guest     August 20, 2013 at 5:24 pm

by Abigail Scott Paul

Empathy is the central value at homeless charity The Cyrenians.

And, without doubt, in the two days I have been here in Newcastle, I have witnessed first-hand just how compassionate their front-line workers are: each support worker, manager, receptionist or volunteer goes above and beyond to help the person who walks through the door. No job, however menial, annoying or petty, is too small. This individual and caring approach could not be thrown into more stark relief by the reality of navigating today’s welfare system.

The Cyrenians work with some of the most vulnerable people in society: homeless drug addicts, alcoholics, ex-offenders and people with severe mental health issues. Benefits are a lifeline. Without them they have absolutely nothing: no bed, no food and no prospect of moving forward. Yet the system, often described as a ‘safety net’, is complex, difficult and impractical to access and navigate for people with chaotic lives.

I saw numerous people telephoning call centres to find out if the money they had been expecting was in their bank accounts. Every time they call, they get a different person in a different call centre. And what about those who can’t read or write? Low literacy and numeracy skills are common. Or, what happens if people simply do not have the bus fare to go to the Job Centre? It’s at these points of crisis that The Cyrenians step in to help.

But there is one major new development that looms large over many people: sanctions. Help can now be withdrawn immediately if people do not comply with the conditions of their benefits. This week I have heard numerous stories about sanctions, but these stuck in my mind:

  • A woman in her sixties had her benefits stopped because she only looked for 10 jobs in a week, rather than the required 15.
  • A man had his benefits stopped for not attending an appointment at the Job Centre, because he was working in his job on the Work Programme (set up by the Job Centre).

As part of reforming welfare, sanctions have been put in place to encourage people get back into work. Yet these cases highlight how a breakdown in communication between the claimant and Job Centre Plus can lead to benefits being withdrawn. Clearly, more work needs to be done to improve communication about conditionality.

On the front line, it’s hard to see how such strict regimes and complicated access will help those who need it most. There is still very little evidence on the long-term impacts of sanctions and research shows that the imposition of sanctions can result in criminal behaviour. Certainly support workers are predicting a rise in crime as people are left with no other option to get what they need.

Against a backdrop of hardening attitudes towards people on benefits and a tougher welfare regime, there appears to be little empathy left for the most vulnerable in society. Thank goodness for organisations like The Cyrenians.

Abigail is working on a two-week secondment with The Cyrenians. Follow her tweets @abigailspaul

On social security, Labour should focus on ‘shared responsibility’ not ‘fairness’

by Guest     August 19, 2013 at 9:36 am

by Sam Fowles

We’re 21 months out from the General Election and thus far a potential Labour manifesto looks like Muller Lite to the Tories’ Deluxe Corner – a bit better for me but unlikely to rock my world.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the Welfare debate – a catalogue of Labour surrenders based on one fundamental misconception: That public policy can or should be based on “fairness”. In lackluster unison, the opponents of Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms mumble that it is unfair that families with severely disabled kids should have their welfare income limited to £500 per week. Meanwhile the Tories thunder that it’s not fair hardworking families should pay taxes so the unemployed can live on a higher income.

The trouble is; they’re both right. But only because our public debate has reduced individuals in society to the level of rats escaping a fire; each trying to make sure that someone else’s life is more unfair than ours. And Labour’s just accepted it.

But public policy isn’t about “fairness” or “unfairness”, it’s about responsibility.

The rightwing paradigm, where contributing to society is seen as an imposition which must be forced upon us, reduces people to Hobbesian savages and society to a series of punitive burdens imposed by government. In fact, the innate ability to live as a society is what makes us unique as a species. Society is not an imposition on humans, it is the essence of humanity.

It is also a responsibility to make the world better for the next generation, not because we will personally profit from it but because, if we don’t, what’s the point of us being here at all? We don’t ask why we should try to give our children a better life, we just accept that we should.

But limiting our responsibility to our blood relatives is a logical fallacy. The fact that someone shares my DNA will do nothing to protect them from winds of fortune of which I can neither conceive nor control. Thus our natural responsibility to our own children and innate responsibility to society become one and the same.

Government should be the expression of our collective responsibility. As the expression of our democratic will, government can facilitate us fulfilling our innate individual responsibility and leave us, as individuals, lots of time to indulge our irrational impulses as well.

Not for nothing did JFK urge Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. In the Labour party, social responsibility should be the bedrock of our creed. Ideas like patriotism, community and national purpose should be the spiritual home of the left, yet Labour seems afraid to claim them.

We support welfare, human rights, universal healthcare and free education because – fundamentally – we believe that society advances when it co operates. We believe that, as citizens and as humans, we have a responsibility to advance society.

While appeals to Aristotelian ethics may not play so well on the doorstep, perhaps a good start might be to suggest voters (and politicians) remember their humanity.


Sam Fowles is a researcher in International Law and Politics at Queen Mary, University of London. He tweets at @SamFowles

Could the a Green Progressive Council Tax idea work?

by Guest     August 18, 2013 at 9:59 am

by Mike Shaughnessy

An idea in the form of a Progressive Council Tax (PCT), from the Brighton and Hove Green party, is creating a buzz around the whole Green party. It may soon become a central policy tool for Greens in local government.

To be clear, Green party national policy is for the introduction of a Land Value Tax for raising local revenue. But we also need a credible strategy at local government level where we can and do (in Brighton and Hove) run local authorities, which is more than just implementing cuts as directed by national government, as we are at the moment.

So, how does it work? First a referendum needs to be held and won in a local authority area on raising Council Tax by more than 2%, in fact much more than 2%, with the higher the increase, the less the majority will pay.

Then residents are required to apply for a reduction in the charge, which would be means tested, with around 80% of residents receiving a reduction, meaning most would actually pay less than now. For the other 20% who do not qualify for a reduction there will be steep increase in Council Tax.

This is all based on residents’ income and ability to pay, which is perfectly fair and counter to the policies of the ConDem government. Vulnerable groups will get special help to ensure they pay only the correct amount.

I’m told that this does not require any change to the law nationally, so if voters can be convinced that this a fairer way to fund local services, and for most it will cost less, then there is nothing to stop a local council introducing this approach.

PCT has a number of advantages, I think. It is fairer, because those who can afford to pay more will do so, leaving those on more modest means either unaffected or better off. It also has the potential to reduce some of the cuts to services that are required by national government reducing direct grants to local authorities, and so at least some services and jobs are retained.

Then of course there is the politics. Would Labour run councils for example, follow suit and introduce the scheme themselves? If they saw it working in Brighton and Hove, they might consider it, but if not then the Green party will have staked out an alternative approach, which to use sales parlance, would be our ‘Unique Selling Point’, offering the voters a true choice in how local services are funded.

There is probably a huge amount of detail to work through on this idea, in practically introducing PCT, but I’m sure that can be achieved, and in principle it can be justified in terms of fairness. We need to be bold as a party in these testing times. PCT’s time has surely come.


Mike blogs more regularly at Haringey Green Party Blog

Why we should oppose Islamic Sharia courts in Britain

by Guest     August 16, 2013 at 11:05 am

by Ben Six

The Islamic Sharia Council is the biggest Sharia body operating in Britain. The officialdom includes Maulana Abu Sayeed, Suhaib Hasan and Haitham al-Haddad. Sayeed, its President, was charged with involvement in war crimes in his homeland of Bangladesh, and has said that rape is “impossible” within marriages.

Hasan, its Secretary, was recorded by Undercover Mosque preaching that “the Khilaafah” will have “political dominance”; establish “the chopping of the hands of the thieves, the flogging of the adulterers and flogging of the drunkards” and wage “jihad against the non-Muslims”.

Haitham Al-Haddad, who represents the Council in the media, is a regular target of my blog. He is a sincere fellow and tends to be frank in expressing his principles. These are almost as obnoxious as principles can be but it is good to know where stands. It is what helps us to know that to have a man who endorses genital mutilation, tells parents to marry their daughters off while they are young, orders women to obey their husbands and tells people not to question men who beat their wives preside over familial affairs is dangerous and obscene.

Such beliefs can be reflected in the workings of the courts. I will take a moment to say that I have no grievance with anyone making the point that divorce, especially between people who have children, is a grave step that should be preceded with seriousness. What is vile about Suhaib Hasan, for one, is that he treats marital abuse with no such seriousness.

Panorama sent an undercover journalist to him, bearing a secret camera and a tale of regular, painful beatings from her husband. Hasan granted that she should go to the police as a last resort but told her that she should first ask him if she could appease him with her behaviour. To suggest that abuse might be a level response to, say, bad cooking is offensive in its silliness. To suggest that it is the victim’s duty to change her ways is obscene.

The Guardian plonked a camera down in his office two years ago. “He has hit me in the past,” it filmed a woman saying, “He hit me once”. “Only once?” Hasan replied with an obnoxious chuckle. “So it’s not a very serious matter”. How many women have been talked into staying with their husbands and endured further suffering?

Charlotte Proudman, a barrister blogging for the Independent, has explained how the courts are weighed against women.

If a husband seeks to divorce his wife, for example, he has to pay two hundred pounds. If a wife seeks to divorce her husband, she has to pay four hundred pounds. These women are not liable to have a great deal of spare cash. A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. An article on the website of the Islamic Sharia Council, which also endorsed capital punishment for adulterers almost in passing, said this is because “women…are governed by their emotions” while “man is governed by his mind”.

These courts have been overlooked because, well – they are filled with eccentric religionists doing things among themselves. This is idle. Women are being manipulated into endangering themselves, on the basis of ideas that most of them will have been raised to accept without question. Panorama alleged that kids have been ordered to be given up to violent husbands.

Moreover, men like Hasan, who wants to “offer” sharia law to the United Kingdom, and Haddad, who has spoken of the “Islamic Republic of Britain”, hope to one day expand their power over everyone.

It is time we made it harder for them to indulge their fantasies.


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