This is certainly not what a feminist looks like! Cameron and the Tories are failing women across the nation

At least David Cameron can’t be accused of hypocrisy for refusing (five times, no less) to wear a T-shirt saying: “This is what a feminist looks like”. The Global Gender Gap Report 2014 shows that, on his watch, the UK has slid down the rankings of women’s equality from 15th in 2010 to 26th in 2014.

The report is put out by the World Economic Forum, best known for its annual junket for business and other leaders in Davos. It looks at national gender gaps on economic, political, education and health criteria.

The main reason the UK’s not in the top 20 any more? It scores particularly badly on “economic participation”, that is the ratio of women in the workforce, wage equality for similar work done by men and the number of women in senior roles.

In sharp contrast to government claims that “female employment has increased in every sector… with nearly 80 per cent of the increase being in highly skilled occupations”, the report shows women are still paid less than men, whatever work they do, and are underrepresented in senior positions.

This is backed up by the Fawcett Society, which estimates that more than 820,000 women have moved into low paid, insecure jobs since 2008, and one in eight women in low-paid jobs are on zero hour contracts.

Things are also bad in the political sphere, where the UK is 74th of 186 in terms of female representation in parliament. As Zoe Williams points out, we rank “below Iraq” where “it’s still possible to get stoned to death for being raped.”

Cameron’s problem with women

Cameron has long been perceived as having a woman problem – an image he bolstered when he told Labour MP Angela Eagle to “calm down, dear” at PMQs back in April 2011. Currently just four out of his 32 ministers are women, and four women Tory MPs who entered Westminster at the last election have all decided to leave for “personal reasons” while one was deselected.

It wasn’t always so. In fact, the Tories (36 per cent) polled ahead of both Labour (31 per cent) and Lib Dems (26 per cent) among women in the 2010 general election – probably due to Cameron talking up issues like child care, equal pay and parental leave. But in early 2011 women’s support for the Tories fell sharply when these promises failed to come to pass. Polling by YouGov in April 2014 showed that over the previous six months Labour led the Tories by 7.1 points among women.

This is hardly surprising, given the disproportionate negative impact of Tory policies on women’s income, jobs and services. Cutting the budget for the welfare state affects women more because they tend to be poorer than men, whether working or not; receive income from the welfare state because of their caring role; usually live longer than men; and make up around 66 per cent of public sector workers.

The statistics, and policies, weren’t any better under Thatcher, ostensibly our first “woman” prime minister (according to biology, at least). She appointed only one other woman to the Cabinet during her years in power, with “other talented figures left “languishing in lesser posts. She froze child benefits, refused to invest in affordable childcare and criticised working mothers for raising a “crèche generation”. Apparently, she was “left cold” by feminism.

Bringing us back to that pesky T-shirt, courtesy of Harriet Harman on the front bench at PMQs on Wednesday, just across the dispatch box from the red-faced, apoplectic Cameron.

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Tories ramp up their anti-immigration, anti-EU rhetoric in bid to outdo UKIP

In their desperation to win the upcoming Rochester by-election, the Tories have become increasingly toxic and divisive on the EU and immigration.

  • Then Defence Secretary Michael Fallon claimed last Sunday that towns are being “swamped” by migrants and their residents are “under siege”, quickly followed by disarray as No.10 forced him to dilute “swamped” to “under pressure”.

Fallon’s red meat description of English towns being “swamped” while “under siege” will go down well with some. As Stuart Jeffries reminded us on Tuesday, such figures of speech have often played well with “those sympathetic to politicians’ racist speeches”, from Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” to Godfrey Bloom’s “bongo-bongo land”.

Writing in the Daily Mail, former Labour home secretary David Blunkett admitted using the term “swamped” in the same way as Fallon when addressing immigration 12 years ago (although he did not indicate whether his “swamped” towns have been completely submerged in the interim). Apparently not having listened to the news for some time, he went on to suggest that: “Just because immigration is deeply controversial, that cannot mean we should avoid talking about it”.

Blunkett should have taken his cue from his party’s leader, Ed Miliband, who stayed clear of inflammatory language on immigration while on the campaign trail in Rochester in favour of “clear, credible and concrete” measures to deal with the concerns of voters.

Confusing the issues

The fact is that EU freedom of movement has become entrapped in mythology and conflated with immigration, asylum seeking, race relations and outright racism and Islamophobia.

To demonstrate how it can muddle together these different issues: the Daily Mail (which, as we know, does not do nuance) accused Miliband of ‘total cynicism’ in making “sharply contrasting speeches on immigration and race equality in just seven hours”.

But why should a speech on immigration be the same as one on racial equality? A quote from Tory MP Peter Bone sheds no light on the matter: “No one will object to cracking down on racial inequality. But it is totally cynical to say one thing to one audience and something else a few hours later to another.”

Moreover, there is little to justify wild claims of negative impacts from immigration, such as too many EU citizens coming here, the benefits system being abused and wages being forced down. In Immigration: Could we – should we – stop migrants coming to Britain?, immigration expert Jonathan Portes finds the impact on jobs and wages to be negligible “compared to other factors such as technological change, employers’ increasing demand for skilled workers and the positive impact of the national minimum wage”.

His findings for the UK are similar to those addressed in Ten myths about migration, in which writers from some major newspapers in European capitals look at the issues from a European-wide perspective and find (gasp) immigrants are not all criminals, taking our jobs and depleting welfare budgets. Quite the reverse, in fact.

EXPOSED! Daily Mail/Tory dirty tricks campaign against NHS Wales

The Daily Mail’s on-going “exposé” of “Labour’s NHS shame” in Wales is a hilarious hodgepodge of hysterical and unsubstantiated mile-high headlines:

Elderly “victims”, suffering “horrifying neglect” in Welsh hospitals, are “denied food and water” for “long spells” and “told to ‘go to the toilet’ in their beds” (the Mail doesn’t do details).

Police are “probing … claims that staff used furniture to restrain dementia patients” (beds, chairs, tables, wardrobes? We are not told).

“Appalling cases of patients dying on waiting lists” (death by waiting lists? Appalling indeed!).

“Shocking stories” of “NHS refugees” (apparently numbering in the “tens of thousands”) in an annual “mass exodus” across the Wales/England border “to escape… from these waiting lists”.

MP David Davies (local Tory Rottweiler and Mail favourite) picks up the theme with the crazy assertion that the border is “a sort of Iron Curtain… people will do anything to get to the other side”.

Tories fan flames

By the end of last week, the Mail’s sham “exposé” was itself exposed as part of a dirty tricks Tory campaign to undermine positive public perceptions of Labour’s handling of the NHS.

The Tories were clearly fanning the flames with erroneous claims, allegations and indictments that the Mail regurgitated to keep the “investigation” going.

For instance, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote a letter to Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford expressing “concern” that the Cardiff government had “cancelled” a visit by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to carry out a comparative study of the health services in the four nations of the UK. The insinuation was that Labour had much to hide.

Dated 20 October, Mr Hunt’s letter became the Daily Mail Online story of the day – on 20 October – under the headline: “As Labour blocks international inquiry into crisis-hit Welsh NHS, thousands cross border for life-saving treatment.”

In his letter of response, Mr Drakeford revealed that he received Hunt’s letter, marked “Official-Sensitive”, only after it had been given to the London media. He called on Hunt to “adhere to normal conventions” on publishing independent reports and to “cease politicisation of the process”.

A spokesman for Mr Drakeford said: “Wales is fully committed to an OECD quality review of our NHS … and has not pulled out. The OECD visit has been postponed because it became clear that the UK Government were putting party politics ahead of good scrutiny”.

Labour fights back

Meanwhile, the Welsh government issued a detailed rebuttal of ten statements alleged by the Mail. For example, the Mail’s mad claim that “15,000 cancer patients … travel to England for cancer treatment denied to them at home” was invalidated with the fact that Wales treats only a total of 16,000 patients for cancer every year.

Ah facts! Not something the Mail is overly fond of.

The rebuttal makes the point too that: “The UK Government has cut the Welsh Government’s budget by £1·5bn (10%) since the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition came to power.” Nevertheless, “The Welsh Government continues to spend more than 2% more per head on health than is spent in England”.

Motivation

In the opening salvo of last week’s damp squid “exposé”, the Mail is upfront about the motivation behind its joint dirty-tricks campaign: “Ed Miliband wants to place the running of the NHS at the heart of Labour’s election campaign next May… despite his party’s dismal record in Wales” (a “dismal record” being high levels of satisfaction among the Welsh people, according to the latest National Survey of Wales).

The Tories desperately need a distraction from their own miserable record on the NHS (including A&E, ambulance services, waiting times, cancelled operations).

They are telling lies and skewing the facts because they know the public trusts Ed Miliband above other party leaders when it comes to the NHS.

When Labour left office in 2010, public satisfaction with the NHS was at its highest ever-recorded level of 70 per cent, having risen from 34 per cent in 1997 when Margaret Thatcher left office. It subsequently dropped to 58 per cent in 2011.