Category Archives: women

Sophie Scholl – post election protest, the press and public

Had she not been executed in Munich aged 21, Sophie Scholl would have celebrated her 94th birthday today.

Had she been alive, I would like to have invited her for the German tradition of afternoon coffee and cake in an artisan cafe in the student quarter of Schwabing, in the north side of central Munich. One we both once knew well and liked. One opposite a bookshop.

She famously wrote in a letter: ’Send me more new books, I’m dying of hunger!’

We might have talked of Heine’s poetry that she loved and was banned. Of Hemingway or Mann. When she was at school there was a long list of books removed which weren’t by Nazi approved authors.

I’m sure she would have approved of the literary prize – won by Glen Greenwald in 2014 – named after Sophie and her brother.

We may have strolled past the space where the Wittelsbach Palace in the Brienner Strasse once stood, Munich’s former Gestapo headquarters, where she was questioned for four days in 1943. It was torn down in 1964. She didn’t live to see that happen.

She was convicted of high treason and executed on February 22 after being caught distributing homemade anti-war and anti-Hitler leaflets at the University of Munich (LMU), with her brother Hans.

She was a courageous, bright young woman who stood up for peace, criticised the Nazi leader and government, and died for her ideals, embodied in the group the ‘White Rose’.

The media then was controlled and wrote little of what protest there was.

Some media outlets today in the UK and America have been criticised for their poor coverage of recent peaceful protests. But set fire to a police van or deface a monument and your cause might make the front page. Albeit for all the wrong reasons.

It is time for journalists to reconsider their role and responsibilities. In a world of change which may include losing the right to free speech and equality for women and minorities in the Human Rights Act, it seems odd editors of all people, would choose to be so biased.

The White Rose group called for students to fight against the party. The Nazi party. To leave the party organizations in which they saw students politically muzzled and protest contained.

Post UK General Election 2015 I wonder if there are people who are doubting their own political involvement with parties who lost seats.

Some may be joining political groups or marching under campaign groups’ banners. What will they achieve?

Post Election Protests

Of the two thirds who did not vote for the winning GE2015 party, how many people turned out in protests today?

There was more of a widespread rally reported on the stock market than on the streets since Friday morning.

“Centrica, the owner of British Gas and one of the UK’s main energy providers rose 7.4 per cent to 276.5p. Royal Bank of Scotland was one of the best-performing financial stocks, up 6 per cent at 352p.”  [FT May 9, 2015]

This week after the election, parties and large member campaign groups may be thinking hard about their messages and their audience.  If their message on the NHS for example, has hundreds of concrete case studies of moves towards outsourcing under the last five years of government, and millions of online signatures, yet they cannot convince the voting public that the state NHS as we know it is at risk, something is wrong with the message, their delivery or finding the audience they need to engage.

What matters to the majority of people everyday is more palpable than policies or protest campaigns; shelter, water, food, power, transport, our digital infrastructure and freedom of communication and travel. The protection of human dignity. To feel safe.  To have access to justice and education and health. To have freedom to love and live as you choose.

There is also another possibility. That not enough people care enough to stand up with the courage of their convictions. But perhaps it is rather that the majority are just too busy managing daily life?

Perhaps there is also an argument for campaign groups with millions of members to stop national protest and start delivery of grassroots local change. To provide the services and solutions that strengthen individuals. Their big campaigns did not turn into great electoral power.  Perhaps like twitter, there is a tendency for the message to only reach already like minded folk. Small concrete changes for individuals may have more impact on everyday lives. Through those could come cohesion. And instead of telling their already convinced supporters to sign yet another petition, they should share stories, with consent, of everyday lives.

Stories of what real life is like when you are affected by policies in practice, stories whose ripples will reach further. Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell us the NHS is in danger, show us the service rationing.

The Access to Work cuts consultation affecting the disabled has already been announced, picked up by twitter and in the Independent.

But how effective any ensuing protests may be, may depend on the press and wider public for enough support.

The Press and the Public

In the 2015 General Election campaign, many felt the biggest winner was spin.

There was the Telegraph’s last minute email to readers, and a letter so misleading reportedly from business owners that even big name companies distanced themselves from it.

Now after the result and seeing the first cuts to the disabled and threats to free speech, I really think the Telegraph editor(s) should go and sit in a corner and think about what they have done.

When on Friday I spoke with an experienced investigative journalist, his reaction to the election result was disappointment the campaign had been so bland on content yet strongly partisan.

For people who blame Scots for the outcome of the election, the political press did its job. Not only have cuts in compassionate welfare been successfully justified by blaming the demand for it on laziness, employment market failures have been left squarely at the feet of foreigners, and the press front pages managed to drive a wedge between the nations and parties.

‘Divide and conquer’ is an ancient but perhaps forgotton meme. Pushing living issues we struggle with in society back into our own hands so that we criticised each other and not the failings of parties’ policies to deal with them, was an effective tactic.

The created fear of anything foreign became not just about mugs, not just about people crossing the channel, but fear of the unknown.

So we voted for what we knew or against what we could no longer trust.

So what would Sophie have been like today?

She would no doubt find the injustice of our recent changes in the legal system abhorrent.

Solicitors tell me of rumors that people on probation in Sussex are no longer being met face-to-face since the service was privatised. She may also have had fears that an increase in juvenile behaviour legislation as was implemented in her youth in Germany, will come into Britain. Powers to search pupils, issue same day detention, exclusions & use reasonable force began in 2010. What will be next for our young people under the same leader now in charge of directly punitive services? A fan of long custodial sentences.

She would perhaps have been pretty sharp on twitter. She may have supported Millifandom. She would have stood up to the press. She would have become a pretty indomitable woman. Exactly what the judge, state and its supporters saw in her at 21.

I will not be able to indulge Sophie on her 94th birthday, as she lies buried in a tiny grave, in the Perlach cemetery on the south side of Munich next to the Stadelheim prison where she spent her final days.

It is still one of the largest prison complexes in Germany today.

She reminds us that well used peaceful protest, and print, can prick the conscience of citizens and those in power to achieve justice, fairness and a future society open to all who want to live in it.

“We will not be quiet. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace.”[Flugblatt 4]

The world is better for Sophie Scholl and friends having been there. She would have been 94 today. It wasn’t long ago she was 21.

Herzlichen Glückwunsch Sophie, meine Liebe.

*****

*****

The White Rose background:

In 1943 open protest was impossible.

Their sixth and final leaflet produced by the movement was titled: “To fellow freedom fighters in the resistance”.

Its last lines are quite hard to translate: “Frisch auf mein Volk, die Flammenzeichen rauchen!” But the spirit is this. “Wake up people, where there is smoke there is fire.”

Would the White Rose flyers have fanned the sparks of protest in Munich had she not been killed?

The state wasn’t prepared to find out.

She was convicted of high treason on February 22 after being caught distributing homemade anti-war and anti-Hitler leaflets at the University of Munich (LMU) four days earlier, with her brother Hans.

The judge, Freisler, who became later known for his ideology of the  ‘pernicious juvenile’ which helped shape Nazi law, condemned six people to death from the group the ‘White Rose’: all three defendants of the first trial of February 22, 1943: Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst; as well as Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and Professor Kurt Huber in the second trial on April 19, 1943.

Sophie Scholl believed she could change things. In life or death.

“It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives? What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted? Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt.”

She was given a written copy of the charges against her. In her cell she wrote one word on the back of the page. “Freedom.”

But she did not get the student revolt or the freedom she hoped for.

Of about 8,000 Munich students a maximum of 50 ever stood up for them. Neither the leaflets left in the university or the White Rose deaths sparked great protest against the Nazi regime.

The ‘seditious’ leaflet promoted peace and pointed out how many young men were losing their lives on the Russian front.  It decried gagging laws and limits to freedom of expression. It called for people, in particular students, to be individual conscious citizens with responsibility to freedom, and honour for their future.

Fatally, it also said that Hitler’s regime must fall to ensure the survival of Germany: “Hitler und seine Regime müssen fallen, damit Deutschland weiterlebt.”

 

References:
The White Rose papers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

http://www.bpb.de/geschichte/nationalsozialismus/weisse-rose/61035/zeitzeugin

Spiegel: http://www.spiegel.de/einestages/widerstandskaempferin-sophie-scholl-jetzt-werde-ich-etwas-tun-a-948731.html

Michael C. Schneider/ Winfried Süß: “Keine Volksgenossen. Studentischer Widerstand der Weißen Rose”LMU Müchen 1993 ISBN 3-922480-08-X

Barbara Leisner: ‘Ich würde es genauso wieder machen’. Sophie Scholl, ISBN: 3-612-65059-9

National Poetry Day 2014 – Remember

This year’s National Poetry Day is today, Thursday 2 October.
The theme for 2014 is ‘remember’. 

***

Memories of Jacob’s Room – At the Sea Lane Cafe

Beyond the pane of glass,
endless strata of sands stretch out to the lighthouse.
Wet swathes of brown and grey in irregular ridges,
in donkey colours.
I think of the rides of childhood he never had.
The sky sleeps snug above,
inverted greyness of the ground,
tucked in
and thickly cloud clad.

Stranded seaweed lies drying,
dying on the foreshore.
Patterns like magnified veins.
Scattered stones,
rounded down by years of wear,
worn down tossing in the waves.
Becoming sand.
Tossing in the waves.
The result of endless cycles of destruction,
construction,
worn down under pressure.
Tossing in the waves.
Becoming smaller,
and smaller.

Tiny damaged shells are picked up by playing children,
taken home, clamped tightly in their tiny hands.

Inside the adults sit, each at a table,
one a group of six absorbed in talk of the breakfast,
stolen from the office fridge.
Told by a man wearing tortoiseshell rims
around elegant eyes,
deep in experience,
face etched with laughter, he grins.
His white-grey hair merging with the wintry sky beyond,
beyond the glass.
I drift into daydream.

I would like to have known him.

‘Number fifty-nine. Pot of tea for two?’

‘That’s your peugot, the blue? Isn’t it? You’ve left your lights on.’

An older woman gets up, keys in hand.
Dragged from her steaming reverie,
thoughts abandoned.
Dragged back outside into the cold mainstream of life
by the saving, searching beams of her car.
She stays outside and walks along the ridge.
Kitesurfers catch the early morning offshore breeze
on their voyage out.

And I,
I think of Virginia Woolf
and her pebbles
and of knitting blue woolen stockings
which were so small.

And never worn.

***

 

care.data – the cut-outs: questions from minority voices

“By creating these coloured paper cut-outs, it seems to me that I am happily anticipating things to come…I know that it will only be much later that people will realise to what extent the work I am doing today is in step with the future.” Henri Matisse (1869-1954) [1]

My thoughts on the care.data advisory event Saturday September 6th.  “Minority voices, the need for confidentiality and anticipating the future.”

[Video in full > here. Well worth a viewing.]

After taking part in the care.data advisory group public workshop 10.30-1pm on Saturday Sept 6th in London, I took advantage of a recent, generous gift; membership of the Tate. I went to ‘Matisse – the cut outs’ art exhibition.  Whilst looking around it was hard to switch off the questions from the morning, and it struck me that we still have so many voices not heard in the discussion of benefits, risk and background to the care.data programme. So many ‘cut out’ of any decision making.

Most impressive of the morning, had been the depth and granularity of questions which were asked.  I have heard varying aspects of questions at public events, and the subject can differ a little based on the variety of organisations involved. However, increasingly, there are not new questions, rather I hear deeper versions of the questions which have already been asked, over the last eighteen months. Questions which have been asked intensely in the last 6 months pause, since February 2014 [2] and which remain unanswered. Those from the care.data advisory committee and hosting the event, said the same thing based on a previous care.data advisory event also.

What stood out, were a number of minority group voices.

A representative for the group Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) raised a number of excellent questions, including that of communications and ‘home’ GP practices for the Traveller community. How will they be informed about care.data and know where their ‘home’ practice is and how to contact them? Whose responsibility will that be?

I spoke with a small group a few weeks ago simply about NHS use in general. One said they feared being tracked down through a government system [which was used for anything other than clinical care]. They register with new names if they need to access A&E. That tells you already how much they trust ‘the system’. For the most part, he said, they would avoid NHS care unless they were really desperately in need and beyond the capability of their own traveller community ‘nurse’. The exception was childbirth when this group said they would encourage expectant mums to go into hospital for delivery. They must continue to do so when they need to and must feel safe to do so. Whether in general they may use primary care or not, many travellers are registered at GPs, and unless their names have been inadvertently cleansed recently, they should be contacted before any data extraction as much as anyone else.

Our NHS is constitutionally there for all. That includes groups who may be cut off from mainstream inclusion in society, through their actions, inaction or others’ prejudice. Is the reality in this national programm actively inclusive? Does it demonstrate an exemplary model in practice of what we hear said the NHS aims to promote?

Transgender and other issues

The question was posed on twitter to the event, whether trans issues would be addressed by care.data. The person suggested, that the data to be extracted would “out us as probably being trans people.” As a result,  she said “I’d want to see all trans ppl excluded from care.data.”

Someone who addressed ‘her complex gender identity’ through her art, was another artist I respect, Fiore de Henriquez. She was ‘shy of publicity.’ One of her former studios is filled with work based on two faces or symbiotic heads, aside from practice pieces for her more famous commissioned work.For her biography she insisted that nothing be concealed. “Put in everything you can find out about me, darling. I am proud to be hermaphrodite, I think I am very lucky, actually.” However, in her lifetime she acknowledged the need for a private retreat and was shy until old age, despite her flamboyant appearance and behaviour. You can see why the tweet suggested excluding any transgender data or people.

‘Transgender issues’ is an upcoming topic to be addressed at the NHS Citizen even on 18th September as well. How are we making sure these groups and the ‘other’ conditions, are not forgotten by care.data and other initiatives? Minorities included by design will be better catered for, and likely to participate if they are not simply tacked on as an afterthought, in tick-box participation

However, another aspect of risk is to be considered – missing minorities 

Any groups who opt themselves out completely, may find that they and their issues are under represented in decision making about them by commissioners and budget planning for example.  If authorities or researchers choose to base decisions only on care.data these discrepancies will need taken into account.

Ciarán Devane highlighted this two-sided coin of discrimination for some people. There are conditions which are excluded from care.data scope. For example HIV. It is included in HARS reporting, but not in care.data. Will the conditions which are excluded from data, be discriminated against somehow? Why are they included in one place, not in another, or where data is duplicated in different collections, where is it necessary, where is the benefit? How can you make sure the system is safe and transparent for minorities’ data to be included,  and not find their trust undermined by taking part in a system, in which they may have fears about being identified?

Missing voices

These are just two examples of groups from whom there had been little involvement or at least public questions asked, until now. The traveller and transgender community. But there are many, notably BME, and many many others not represented at any public meetings I have been at. If they have been well represented elsewhere, any raw feedback, with issues addressed, is yet to be shared publicly.

Missing voices – youth

A further voice from which we hear little at meetings, because these meetings have been attended as far as I have seen so far, mainly by older people, is the voice of our youth.

They are left out of the care.data discussion in my opinion, but should be directly involved. It is after all, for them that we need to think most how consent should work, as once in, our data is never deleted.

Whilst consent is in law overridden by the Health and Social Care Act, it is still the age old and accepted ethical best practice. If care.data is to be used in research in future, it must design best practices now, fit for their future purposes.

How will our under-18s future lives be affected by choices others make now on their behalf?

Both for them as the future society and as individuals. Decisions which will affect research, public health planning and delivering the NHS service provision as well as decisions which will affect the risk of individual discrimination or harm, or simply that others have knowledge about their health and lifestyle which they did not choose to share themselves.

Some people assume that due to social networks, young people don’t care about privacy. This is just not true. In fact, studies show that younger people are more conscious of the potential harm to their reputation, than we may want to give them credit for.

This Royal Academy of Engineering report, [3]” Privacy and Prejudice – Young People’s views on the Development of Electronic Patient Records” produced in conjunction with Wellcome from 2010, examines in some depth, youth opinions of 14-18 year olds.  It tackles questions on medical data use: consent, control and commercialism. The hairy questions are asked about teen access to records, so when does Gillick become applied in practice and who decides?

The summary is a collection of their central questions and its discussion towards the end, which are just as valid for care.data today, as well as for considering in the Patient Online discussion for direct care access. I hope you’ll take time to read it, it’s worth it.

And what about the Children?

Some of our most vulnerable, will have their data and records held at the HSCIC. There are plans for expansion rapidly into social care data management, aligned with the transformation of health and social services. Where’s the discussion of this? Does HSCIC even have the legal capacity to handle children’s social care data?

How will at-risk groups be safer using this system in which their identities are less protected? How will the information gathered be used intelligently in practice to make a difference and bring benefit? What safeguards are in place?

“Future releases of new functionality are planned over the next 12 months, including the introduction of the Child Protection – Information Sharing application which will help to improve the protection of children who have previously been identified as vulnerable by social services.” (ref: HSCIC Spine transition)

“Domestic violence can affect anyone, but women,
transgender people and people from BME groups are at higher risk than the general population.”
(Ref: Islington’s JSNA Executive Summary – 9 – August 2014)

 

We must ask these questions about data sharing and its protection on behalf of others, because these under represented groups and minorities cannot themselves, if they are not in the room.

Where’s the Benefit?

We should also be asking the question raised at the event, about the benefits compared with the data already shared today. “Where’s the benefit?”, asked another blogger some time ago, raising his concerns for those with disabilities. We should be asking this about new dating sharing vs the many existing research databases and registries we already have, with years of history. Ciarán Devane wisely asked this on the 6th, succinctly asking what attendees had expressed.

“It will be interesting to know if they can demonstrate benefits. Not just: ‘Can we technically do this?’ but: ‘If we see primary care data next to HES data, can we see something we didn’t see before’?”

An attendee at the Healthwatch run care.data event in Oxford last week, asked the same thing. NHS England and IT providers would, one would think, be falling over themselves to demonstrate the cost/benefit, to show why this care.data programme is well managed compared with past failures. There is form on having expensive top down programmes go awry at huge public expense and time and effort. On NpfIT “the NAO also noted that “…it was not demonstrated that the financial value of the benefits exceeds the cost of the Programme.”

Where is the benefits case for care.data, to weigh against the risks? I have yet to see a publicly available business case.

The public donation

Like my museum membership, the donation of our data will be a gift. It deserves to be treated with the respect that each individual should deserve if you were to meet them face-to-face in the park.

As I enjoyed early evening sun  leaving the exhibition, the grassy area outside was packed with people. There were families, friends, children, and adults on their own. A woman rested heavily pregnant, her bump against her partner. Children chased wasps and stamped on empty cans. One man came and sold me a copy of the Big Issue, I glimpsed a hearing aid tucked into a young woman’s beehive hair, one amputee, a child with Down Syndrome giggling with a sister. Those glimpses of people gave me images I could label without a second glance. Disabled. Deaf. Downs. There were potentially conditions I could not see in others. Cancer. Crohn’s. Chlamydia. Some were drinking wine, some smoking. A small group possibly high. I know nothing about any of those individuals. I knew no names, no addresses. Yet I could see some familial relationships. Some connections were obvious. It struck me, that they represented part of a care.data population, whom buyers and researchers  may perceive as only data. I hope that we remember them as people. People from whom this programme wants to extract knowledge of their lifestyles and lives, and who have rights to express if, and how they want to share that knowledge. How will that process work?

Pathfinders – the rollout challenges that remain?

At the advisory group led meeting it was confirmed that pathfinders, would be chosen shortly.

[CCGs were subsequently announced here,  see related links, end of page for detail, note added Oct 7th]

But  the care.data programme is “still delivering without a business case”.  Despite this, “between two and four clinical commissioning groups will be selected, “in the coming weeks” to begin the pathfinder stage of the care.data programme, ” reports NIB meeting[8]

It reports what was discussed at the meeting.

“The pathfinders will test different communication strategies before moving forward with the data extraction part of the project.”

I for one would be extremely  disappointed if pathfinders go ahead in the ‘as is’ mode.  It’s not communications which is the underlying issue still. It’s not communications that most people ask about. It’s questions of substance, to which, there appear to be still insufficient information to give sound answers.

Answers would acknowledge the trust in confidentiality owed to the individual men, women, and children whose data this is. The people represented by those in the park. Or by the fifty who gave up their time on a sunny Saturday to come and ask their questions. Many without pay or travel expenses just giving up their time. Bringing their questions in search of some answers.

The pathfinder communications cannot be meaningfully trialled to meet the needs of today and the future design, when the substance of key parts of the message is uncertain. Like scope.

The care.data advisory group and the Health and Social Care Information Centre , based on the open discussion at the workshop both appear to be working, “anticipating things to come…” and to be doing their best to put processes and change in place today, which will be “in step with the future.”

To what extent that is given the right tools, time and support to be successful with all of the public, including our minorities, I don’t know. It will depend largely now on the answers to all the open questions, which need to come from the Patients and Information Directorate at the Commissioning Board, NHS England.

After all, as Mr.Kelsey himself says,

“The NHS should be engaging, empowering and hearing patients and their carers throughout the whole system all the time. The goal is not for patients to be the passive recipients of increased engagement, but rather to achieve a pervasive culture that welcomes authentic patient participation.”

What could be less empowering than to dismiss patient rights?

The challenge is: how will the Directorate at NHS England ensure to meet all these technical, governance and security needs, and yet put the most important factors first in the design; confidentiality and the voice of the empowered patient: the voice of Consent?

*****

This post captured my thoughts on the care.data advisory event Saturday September 6th.  “Minority voices, the need for confidentiality and anticipating the future.” This was about the people side of things. Part two, focuses on the system part of that.

*****

Immediate information and support for women experiencing domestic violence: National Domestic Violence, Freephone Helpline 0808 2000 247

*****

[1] Interested in a glimpse into the Matisse exhibition which has now closed? Check out this film.

[2] Previous post: My six month pause round up [part one] http://jenpersson.com/care-data-pause-six-months-on/

[3] Privacy and Prejudice: http://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/privacy-and-prejudice-views This study was conducted by The Royal Academy of Engineering (the Academy) and Laura Grant Associates and was made possible by a partnership with the YTouring Theatre Company, support from Central YMCA, and funding from the Wellcome Trust and three of the Research Councils (Engineering and Physical and Sciences Research Council; Economic and Social Research Council and Medical Research Council).

[4]  Barbara Hepworth – Pelagos – in Prospect Magazine

[5] Questions remain open on how opt out works with identifiable vs pseudonymous data sharing requirement and what the objection really offers. [ref: Article by Tim Kelsey in Prospect Magazine 2009 “Long Live the Database State.”]
[6] HSCIC current actions published with Board minutes
[8] NIB https://app.box.com/s/aq33ejw29tp34i99moam/1/2236557895/19347602687/1

 

*****

More information about the Advisory Group is here: http://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/tsd/ad-grp/

More about the care.data programme here at HSCIC – there is an NHS England site too, but I think the HSCIC is cleaner and more useful: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/3525/Caredata

 

“You just put your lips together and blow.” RIP Lauren Bacall

Film fans around the world will feel another loss today, as the death of Lauren Bacall was announced.

The Huffington Post:

“Lauren Bacall, one of the last stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, has died. [..}

… it was for her four films alongside Humphrey Bogart for which she will be best remembered.

“Bacall married Bogart in 1945, the couple going on to have two children, a son and a daughter. The pair remained together until his death in 1957. After Bogart’s death, Bacall married actor Jason Robards Jr, to whom she had a further son.”

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love classic films. I enjoy their pace, artistry and use of language which is often so different in contemporary film making. I am a fan of the forties style. I also love the audacity and spirit of fun which is portrayed in that era of Hollywood leading ladies.

Lauren Bacall’s screen glamour and quintessential attitude will forever be immortalised in lines from To Have and Have Not, the film in which she met Bogart.

“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

The idea of a woman capable of something a man was not or that she could be his equal, was slightly tongue in cheek, but in fact a critical component of the development in society at the time. In the Second World War, notions of what women could and could not do were tossed aside, as women whether in the workplace in manufacturing or agriculture, replaced their men at war. Clothes and looks, and attitudes to sexuality and marriage, were changing. Post-war there was turmoil as roles were realigned. Some of this was reflected in film of the era, women were often dutiful housewives or dangerous femmes fatales. Bacall straddled both in real life and on screen.

Attitudes to women’s role in society and post-suffragism politics were changing. Bacall played an active role here. During the late 1940s, together with Bogart and others, she set up the Committee for the First Amendment. Though widely noted as naive, it was an attempt to stand up to the attacks on Hollywood by the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), to defend free speech and political rights.  Much as one would see the Blacklist thirty years later portrayed in The Way We Were [1973] by Barbra Streisand.

Lauren Bacall saw much change in views towards women in society in her lifetime. But that passing line, in her breakthrough film points to one small, insignificant thing which does not seem that much changed, then or now. I find it can still be seen as mildly inappropriate or surprising by some today. A woman whistling in public. Not a wolf whistle, diet-soda-would-be-proud-at-that-misfired-act-of-equality style whistle. But a tune. A rip roaring rousing melody.

Some of the most simple things in life, bring the most pleasure.

Today it is rare that I meet another women who likes to whistle, at all, never mind as much as I do. When in towns in pedestrian underpasses, in deserted London Underground tunnels or in the car. Wherever I can get a good acoustic. But occasionally I’ll forget to stop if someone should unexpectedly stumble into the soundwaves. And quizzical glances, little smiles, half comments reveal, it’s maybe a little less usual. But perhaps we should celebrate simplicity more often. It’s fun to whistle, as it is to sing. And perhaps it’s OK to be a little different, a characteristic Director Howard Hawkes who discovered Bacall, sought out and strove to preserve.

It was her film acting which made her name and found her leading man in all senses. For Lauren Bacall, Bogart was the love of her life. My favourite of their films, The Big Sleep, will no doubt be the source of headlines today.

She worked on Broadway in musicals, gaining Tony Awards for Applause in 1970 and Woman of the Year in 1981 but it was her performance in the film, the The Mirror Has Two Faces which earned her a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination. In 2009 she received an Honorary Oscar “in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures.”

Amongst her own achievements, it may be she will be best remembered for what she shared together in the classic black and white era with Bogart, part of the glamorous couple. She hoped that she would be remembered more for herself.  For me,  she was unique, distinct and different in film noir. It’s her independent, grown up sassiness for which I’ll remember her on screen, and the glimpses into her strength of character I admired in real life.
“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

Thinking to some Purpose – a new era, a new look

Regular readers here or on twitter, may notice the new-look.

I’m moving away from The Amateur Book Blogger banner, and will be posting simply as me, as I go on.  The start of the summer holidays seemed as good a day as any, to saunter out into the sunshine on my own.  [I may even see if it’s worth updating my resultant twitter handle @TheABB]. The reason? This week, the View From Here Magazine announced it will be closing on November 1st, 2014. After seven  years on the writing team, it is not only the end of an era, but perhaps the start of a something new.

I started on the comms side, announcing writing events and industry news, and later moved into interviews. It’s been an amazing experience. Editor Mike French was a great remote-mentor. We’ve met only once, at the launch of his latest novel, Convergence, in The Dandelion Trilogy.  Mike both enabled and encouraged me to interview some great writers, editors, scouts and publishers, every quarter. I learned something new each time, from every contribution, and had great fun. All of which I enjoyed, but some stand out in the memory more than others, and every one was unique.

I travelled to The London Book Fair in 2010, the year the Icelandic volcanic ash prevented many traveling from abroad by plane.  The resulting bonus, many people’s meeting schedules became unexpectedly less full. I got squeezed in to film a serendipitous  interview with Jamie Byng at Canongate and  spoke with Helen Garnons-Williams, which led to producing a three part interview with her, the then newly head-hunted Editorial Director for Fiction at Bloomsbury UK.

Thank you to all whom I have interviewed since 2006, but also to readers and fellow unpublished writers who supported me, the team, and made the community at The View From Here what it is. With eclectic tastes, I learned much on writing, but also enjoyed the art of the creative collective.

The most recent interview I did for them, was here, with Isabel Allende. In her wide ranging career, it was hard to know what to ask and how to narrow it down, but one thing stays with me, in all she said, on the role of a writer:

“Writers have no obligation to comply with the official story or the official version, their only obligation is with their own consciousness.  Honesty above all.”

The other part of my writing recently has been more akin to her engagement in politics and civil society. I’ve been on twitter really only for the last nine months, throughout the difficult pregnancy of care.data, pronounced care [dot] data. If you missed it, that’s the government proposed scheme to suck up our GP medical records, merge them with data already held at the central Health and Information Centre from our hospital care, and then use the new, richer record for commissioning purposes and potentially more, as yet undefined.  Since our hospital and other health sourced-data is already sold to private companies and will continue to be so in future, but without having asked for informed consent, I’ve been a very skeptical critic and lay voice for positive changes for these wide secondary uses. [In case you’ve landed here for the first time,  I’ve a background in tech database implementations, communications and change, and I took it upon myself to fully understand and follow the subject, a year ago when I came across the topic online, by accident.]

It looks now, as though some improvements on past failings will  happen, but much remains undefined in detail, and as we all know, that’s where the devil likes to sup. I look forward to seeing some of the recently discussed changes and definitions in the Care Act, for example, becoming concrete.

So, that’s the reason for the insignificant changes on my part, and should I explain the image? I’ve chosen my favourite coffee mug for my header photo, with my favourite scarf. I use both often. The latter, reminds me a little of Bridget Riley’s op art. As a retro fan that appeals to me. The former, depicts the cover of Susan Stebbing’s most popular work Thinking to some purpose (1939) which was described on the cover of the first Pelican Books edition as being:

“A manual of first-aid to clear thinking, showing how to detect illogicalities in other people’s mental processes and how to avoid them in our own”

The work arose out of a synopsis she wrote for a series of radio broadcasts intended for the BBC. Published on the eve of the Second World War, Stebbing wrote:

“There is an urgent need to-day for the citizens of a democracy to think well. It is not enough to have freedom of the Press and parliamentary institutions. Our difficulties are due partly to our own stupidity, partly to the exploitation of that stupidity, and partly to our own prejudices and personal desires.”

Her words seem very timely.

To borrow from Wikipedia here: “This metaphor seems to me to be appropriate, because potted thinking is easily accepted, is concentrated in form, and has lost the vitamins essential to mental nourishment. You will notice that I have continued  the metaphor by using the word ‘vitamins.’ Do not accept the metaphor too hastily: it must be expanded.”

I wrote about use of language and the need for common sense in its use around our health, as well as food marketing, in a previous post. But on the book, Professor Stebbing [British philosopher 1885- 1943] went on to say:

Potted meat is sometimes a convenient form of food; it may be tasty, it contains some nourishment. But its nutritive value is not equivalent to that of the fresh meat from which it was potted. Also, it must have originally been made from fresh meat, and must not be allowed to grow stale. Similarly a potted belief is convenient; it can be stated briefly, sometimes also in a snappy manner likely to attract attention. A potted belief should be the outcome of a belief that is not potted. It should not be held on to when circumstances have changed and new factors have come to light. We should not allow our habits of thought to close our minds, nor rely upon catch-words to save ourselves from the labour of thinking. Vitamins are essential for the natural growth of our bodies; the critical questioning at times of our potted beliefs is necessary for the development of our capacity to think to some purpose.”

So here’s to that, my ‘critical questioning’ may have shifted from one arena into another, but I hope I continue ‘thinking to some purpose’.

Deeds not Words – Women’s Political and Electoral Engagement

Suffragette
ca 1920 first US election to offer women the right to vote

“A hundred years on, would those suffragist women feel it was worth their collective effort and what it cost them as individuals?”

One hundred years ago today, protestors gathered outside Buckingham Palace under the banner of ‘Votes for Women‘. It was barely a year since the death of Emily Wilding-Davison at the Derby in June, 1913. Possibly the best known of the women who had campaigned in the suffragist movement (1), made famous after she died from her injuries after being trampled by the King’s horse Anmer at Tattenham Corner (2). There is still debate whether it was suicide or accidental.

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage (the NUWSS) had failed through peaceful means to reach their goal despite having the support of men and members’ bills in Parliament. The Sufragette group, the WSPU, were less patient.

Under the slogan ‘Deeds not Words’, the anniversary of Emily Wilding Davison’s death last summer triggered a spate of features. There was an excellent historical account delivered in Parliament, by Dr. Mari Takayanagi (4), which includes how the movement and ‘votes for women’ and first female MPs appeared to have made a difference in Parliament.

“There was a raft of legislation passed throughout the 1920s on issues that affected women’s lives and gender equality – including things like the Sex Disqualification Removal Act which allowed women to practice as lawyers, to enter professions like accountancy and become vets and so on for the first time. There were acts about things like pensions; there were acts allowing women to inherit property; there were acts about things like the age of consent and the sale of alcohol to young people. The list goes on and on.

And none of this kind of thing was passed before the First World War and you’ve got to think it’s because women are part of the electorate now and the male MPs had to sit up and take notice of their views as they hadn’t before.”

However, what has been done since the anniversary to address the importance and relevance of women’s votes today and to encourage electoral engagement before these European and local elections on May 22nd 2014?

A hundred years on, would those suffragist women feel it was worth their collective effort (3) and what it cost them as individuals?

In 2013 my local election saw the Conservative candidate win only 231 votes ahead of UKIP – both candidates attaining over 1000 votes, in a turnout of barely 32%. I spoke to her and others, after that vote, on the subjects of women in politics and the continued importance of women’s rights and activism.

Pat Arculus, is our Conservative County Councillor and an Adult Safeguarding Champion. She said,

“It’s a funny game politics, how can we change it? I’ve just been watching Question Time. They’re arguing about the Health Service. You watch it and think, how is this relevant? Why don’t they just get together and sort it out? I think that may be it, women just want to get things done. You run a family, you have a problem, you sort it out and get on. You don’t spend hours arguing about it. Perhaps that’s what puts women off politics.”

Women today in the UK get to participate in the democratic process thanks at least in part, to the efforts and commitment of those women, not so many generations ago  But do women today see the need for their active participation? According to Mrs. Arculus, her recent experience of electoral engagement is poor.

“There is a complete disaffection. It’s not even apathy. It’s “we don’t like politics”, “it doesn’t make any difference,” and “it doesn’t matter who we vote for.” If our young people hear that, then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I was delivering leaflets and teenagers in the garden, I don’t know if they were of voting age, said, “no no take it back, we don’t vote for them.” I was shocked. As a mother it’s not my place to tell them who to vote for. I’d say to young people, read everything, read them all and make your own mind up. If you go into schools and they run mock elections, they are more active than we give them credit for. They seem to lose it, when they get older and don’t see any point.”

But this comment from a year ago, is what we must encourage the major parties pay attention to now, for the 2015 General election:

“In the last election, my majority fell from 2,800 to 220 and that all went to UKIP. So the public are feeling angry, about something.”

Emily Davison, with a first class degree in English as a man, could have walked into many jobs. In her time, with the equivalent as a woman, she was unable to participate in various circles, and found work as a governess and then, as a result of her activism, was sacked.

The issues of equal employment rights, pay and the role of women in childcare and the home are as current today as they were then. We should not take women’s rights to vote here, or in non-UK locations for granted even in countries we may not expect it. Switzerland granted women the vote only in 1971, and it wasn’t until the 90s in some municipalities. And it is easy to forget that full Parliamentary equality in the UK was not achieved until the Peerages Act of 1963.

Women as MPs, mothers, as managers, all as ordinary citizens need to stay as alert as ever to the equality of rights we have come to expect as the norm, to preserve them and to pass on their worth and relevance to our children. Men need to as well, just as importantly.

Rosamund McNeil, Head of Education and Equality at the NUT told me,

“Sometimes it is taken for granted that women today can have public roles, a life outside the home and can speak for themselves. The suffragettes must be celebrated because it reminds us that change and progress is hard won, and that gains for women must be guarded and not reversed. By looking back, it can generate creativity about how to take forward the debate on women’s inequality. I think their stories can inspire young women today to take control of their lives, to make their voices heard and to defy the stereotypes that remain about what women should say, think and do.”

So are the voices of our young women being included and heard in the current election? The suffragist women campaigned with passion for enfranchisement, for the right to vote and to have woman’s voices heard. One may say today,  to become empowered.

There is a feeling about voting today, that it has lost its power.  Not just for women. As exemplified in Pat Arculus’s story, the feeling that whoever we vote for makes no difference, it’s all the same anyway. Talking to people on the street this week about the European Election on May 22nd, I heard the same things.

Worryingly for me, I’ve found there is an undercurrent of nervous excitement when someone mentions UKIP. In our exchanges in the street, whilst out campaigning to encourage voting participation (of any party) on the European Election, there was a spark in the conversation. People talk openly between each other, of a shake up, of change. Men I spoke with seem quite unconcerned with racism or policy, almost as if acknowledging that there’s a touch of racism and misogyny in all of us, just the ‘real politicians’ are too plastic to let it show. A few men brushed aside hard questions, with a hand flutter of bravado. You get the feeling, there’s almost a hint of ‘at least he’s himself, flaws and all.’

Our respected elder statesmen, have for the most part, left the House of Commons.  We hear staged soundbites and laugh at PR gaffes. But is this to the detriment of politics seeming real? Has spin created an image of politics so worried about what it looks like in the press (5), that to the people it looks like nothing we can connect with or trust? So afraid of making a mistake, that can be exploited by the other side, that the leaders have forgotton who they really are at heart and why we should trust in them?

I feel it is this, which women in England feel disaffected by, why politics seems like a man’s game. But both men and women appear to feel disenfranchised, that mainstream parties are too similar, and anyway, ‘they’re all politicians’. 72% of adults surveyed by Ipsos Mori last June felt in general MPs could not be trusted to tell the truth (10). We don’t trust most politicians, we can’t be bothered with all the game playing and word play behind ceremony and late night debates with party political point scoring. We’ve too much else to do with family, work, volunteering and caring, and everything else women take on and juggle. That’s the impression and sentiments I have been given listening on the street to the middle aged and younger voters.

The risk is, through lack of political involvement we disempower our voice. It is even harder to influence politics from outside. The broader risk is, we also see women falling away from the polling booths as was reflected in some of the women I spoke to this week, who either weren’t aware of the election or did not plan to vote on May 22nd. Political apathy leads to electoral apathy as well.

We also risk passing on that disinterest and lack of knowledge to our children.  As one 17 year old girl told me when I asked how they would feel about voting in the next General Election,

“I don’t know anything about it. I don’t think it matters what you vote for, so I don’t think I would. I thought Tony Blair was Prime Minister till someone told me last week he’d changed.”

Her friend added,

“It’s quite exciting though. Seeing as we would be allowed to (vote) for the first time.”

I’d like to think that spark of excitement, could be spread, and underpinned by some conscious thought, to make a difference in the future. But surrounded by friends or family who are apathetic, without encouragement, it is likely to be put out.

Women who choose not to vote run the risk that we will enable men with the hints of the Farage to become empowered through our inaction.  I’m not saying all men, and all women, revealed this split in  tendencies by any means. Or that support of any party is gender based. But it was a noticeable enough trend in a spread of white, middle class Sussex adults whom I spoke with this week.

As it appears manstream parties which have become ever closer together are not representing the views of many people and are not to be trusted, people are looking at the outer wings of the political spectrum, and looking to people who may be imperfect, but look and sound real.

Overall, people just want a decent life in which people get on, are safe, thrive and look out for one another. Most people, like society to be inclusive. That’s what I picked up in a the majority of opinions. But they don’t appear to believe that common sensed approach is well enough represented in politics. Because party politics skews it.

Just talking to people, it appears a common thread that when it feels that manifestos are meaningless especially in coalition (6), people fail to trust them and the parties who propose them. Unable to be convinced by policies, they are instead attracted to people they believe in. We need people with whom the disenchanted can connect in a sensible way without having to reach out to the extreme margins of politics. We need policies and politicians we can trust. We need genuine, passionate people we can believe in.

We need to see that there is value in our vote and see a need to use it wisely.

As the Rt Hon the Baroness D’Souza reiterated in a presentation (7) last autumn,

“political engagement is not a luxury which can be tacked on to society, once it is sufficiently developed. It is a basic human right which affects our lives and livelihoods.”

You could argue that where people’s priorities are simply subsistence and survival, political empowerment is low on their agenda. Standing up for political and electoral involvement should not be a luxury in the UK, where we might believe developmental barriers do not stand in our way to political engagement. But there are many families and individuals in this country for whom economic security or access to further education are not a given.  Government policies which undermine  either for any parts of society, risk not only harming parity of esteem, but risk undermining the opportunities for full & equal access to involvement in political engagement,  which undermines basic democracy.

The electoral commission, identified (8) that those suffering from social deprivation tend to also be the most politically excluded in society and political disengagement can itself be a form of social exclusion.

A basic lack of trust in our elected representatives, is a sad state of affairs. Combined with a lack of knowledge,  a cynicism about politics is shaping politics in ways which mainstream parties should be taking seriously and acting upon.

According to an Ipsos MORI poll in December 2013, 77% of adults asked agree that they know less about the issues in a European Parliamentary Election than at a General Election. (9)

Public cynicism with politics is nothing new, but it looks like it has become entrenched.  Disenchantment with politicians is shared across supporters of all parties – but is noticeably higher among UKIP voters, who seem most unhappy with the current political scene.” (Ipsos MORI 10)

It might not be sweet in reality to become actively, politically  involved, like Disney’s Mrs. Banks would have us believe of the suffragettes, but we need to remember their ‘Deeds not Words’ of the past. We need to remember why it is still necessary today. And we need to encourage our friends, family and daughters to remember Emily and all the ordinary women who made a difference, so that we may have the choice to vote as a right, one which they had to fight for.

No matter how disenchanted we feel, we are no longer  disenfranchised unless by choice. Women, get out and vote.  Get electorally involved at least. Remember what others sacrificed for us to be able to do so. Well done  sister suffragette!

If the majority of the population don’t vote, we shouldn’t be surprised if the collective majority opinion, is less represented than it should be. That allows the extreme views, over representation.

We need our collective engagement just as much today, as a hundred years ago.

____

Refs:

1. Votes for Women Open lecture slides by Dr. Mari Takayanagi

2. British Pathe – Emily Davison and the Derby

3. BBC bitesize history of the Suffrage movement

4. Dr. Mari Takayanagi full lecture notes

5. Rebranding ed Miliband – The Guardian April 2nd 2014,  Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Michael White, Lauren Cochrane, Lance Price and David Schneider

6. Defending the Coalition will cost the Lib Dems letter from Social Liberal Forum, August 2013

7. Towards Political engagement for women Rt Hon the Baroness D’Souza presentation Nov 2013, Parliament Week 2013

8. Social exclusion and political engagement Research report by the Electoral Commission – Nov 2005

9. Ipsos MORI December 2013 poll. Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,286 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain.

10. Ipsos MORI 2013 Trust in MPs poll, Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,023 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.