As I watch BBC’s Question Time tonight, I rejoice in an audience packed with young people.
These days that’s a great sight to see – many young people taking part in the country’s top political discussion programme. Politics frankly is such a turn-off to most young people today.
I’ve always thought my children know a lot about politics as we discuss issues at home frequently. My smugness about this was quickly dispersed this week when one of my children asked me first – what is democracy? And second – how do you get to become an MP? The fact was that she hadn’t even grasped the one key feature in the answer to both of these questions – the vote.
What messages have your family given you about voting?
I have always voted – I’m not going to tell you who I’ve voted for, except to say I’ve not always voted for the same political party. I was brought up in a family where it would have been absolutely scandalous not to use that right. The view was always – don’t complain about the government if you’ve not bothered to cast your vote.
My grandad, who passed away in 1994 at the age of 88, went further. He used to tell me that people died for the vote for women and we should honour that fact. He lived through times of political turmoil and horror – WW1, the 1926 General Strike and WW2. He worked in a dangerous and vital industry – coal mining. He was a big, generous-hearted, hard drinking man who could barely read. But it was him who took his bass drum around the local villages in Somerset to let them know that WW2 was over. (His drum is now in Radstock Museum).
Back to the vote. I don’t live in Somerset any more but my adopted home of Wiltshire boasts a proud heritage around the suffragettes who marched through Marlborough. One of the leading suffragettes, Edith New, was a school teacher from Swindon. She was the first person to protest by chaining herself to railings. She went to prison and went on hunger strike to defend her beliefs.
Scotland is allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote when residents vote for or against independence next year. I think this is a good thing – capturing people’s imagination over politics as early as possible is important. I have some suspicion about why this is going to happen – is it because the Scottish government really want more people to vote or do they hope it will swing the vote one way or the other? Maybe that’s just the cynic in me.
We’ll see. However the day that anyone aged 16 or over can be represented will be a good day for democracy.
Just felt the need today to blog about the whole discussion over sexual harassment in the light of the latest debate surrounding a particular politician.
I’ve faced up to sexual harassment – but did I do it the right way or not?
I listened to a discussion on a weekly political show, on a weekend discussion programme where the issue was discussed in some detail. It’s a mixture of women, men, power, control and sexual desire. A variation on the whole theme of the ‘casting couch’, ‘men in power’ etc etc.
It made me reflect on more than 20 years working in various areas of the media and the times I’d encountered such practices. Which have been few, I should hasten to add. There is no part of the media where I’ve thought ‘can’t work there too many men with wandering hands’.
However there have been a small number of occasions where the behaviour of some men, and women, have surprised me. I won’t say shocked as it takes a lot to shock me.
Please bear in mind, I’m not talking about inappropriate flings or relationships here – I’m talking about moments or revelations which happen and which completely blindside you.
I should set a context – I’m a naturally tactile person, many journalists are, I’ve noticed. I will often touch someone while talking to them, it’s part of my natural body language I suppose. I can be flirtatious but I have a line which cannot be crossed. That is where healthy contact and banter becomes something overtly sexual, makes me feel uncomfortable or seedy. But I’m good at making it clear when that line has been crossed.
I can think of several occasions both professionally and personally where my outgoing personality has led others to think I’m romantically interested in them. I have had to have several difficult conversations about the feelings not being returned, reminders about the fact that I’m married and I take that seriously, and, in some cases, friendships and connections have remained intact. I had these conversations when I was single and when married.
Occasionally however, none of the above apply and here are three incidents I’d like to share.
What do you do when, as a very young green journalist, an older journalist who is always friendly suddenly thinks it’s okay to touch you inappropriately? In this case, it was a man in his 50s, probably, who thought it was okay to stroke the back of my neck. Not abusive but creepy to me.
When it happened the first time, I let it go. The next time, I told him not to touch me again. I have no memory of his response. I think he beat a hasty retreat.
I did tell my boss at the time but I was postively encouraged to take it no further. After all, nothing had really happened. I was told that the person would be ‘told’ about it. Must’ve worked, it didn’t happen again. I just hope it didn’t happen to anyone else.
Another time was personal. A man known to me, retired and someone I saw relatively often, pinned me against a doorframe in his house and tried to snog me. A whole tongue down the throat affair while his wife was in another room. I was a teenager.
It was completely vile and even now, I can recall the feeling of disgust.
Again I told the man, who was in a senior position within his community, to ‘never touch me again or I’ll tell your wife’. Seemed to work.
But I’ve always wondered if he ever did it to anyone else….I also spoke up about it at home but I think it took a long time for my parents to believe it had happened. I know for sure, that my natural revulsion and pushing him away, may have stopped things being much worse.
The other incident I recall was far more recent – within the last five years. I was working alongside someone I’d known for a long time but had not worked directly with and we were in a small room together, we had to be for the job we were doing at the time.
A discussion was taking place which had got around to families and relationships. Nothing unusual in that. Then he asked me a question which really threw me – he asked ‘if I liked three-in-a-bed relationships?’
I looked at him and I think my reply was something bland like ‘I’m a one-man woman me’ and tried to forget it.
The context didn’t set up a question like that and I immediately knew this could all go horribly wrong. I also felt I didn’t want to work with him again straightaway. I did, however, finish that task and nothing happened. I never worked with him again.
I didn’t ever complain about this inappropriate moment. But I find myself asking the same question yet again – did it happen to anyone else and was it even worse?
My conclusion is that most women will have experiences like these both privately and personally. I feel I dealt with them to the best of my ability at the time. I have no idea if I was right or wrong. I can only say that I trusted my judgment of how it made me feel and acted accordingly.
Watching the news tonight and I listened to the mum of 13-year-old boy justifying why her son went to the riots with a hammer strapped to his leg.
He wasn’t rioting, but he was there. The hammer was for his own protection. She was lamenting the injustice of it all.
Police worry about some children who are out of control
Would you let your son out with a hammer strapped to his leg? Would you even let him out with friends where he felt the need to carry a weapon?
I just don’t get that at all.
I don’t have the answers when it comes to preventing riots. More intelligent minds than mine will look for reasons for the unrest.
I do feel very uncomfortable when politicians talk about our society being broken, families being without responsibility, gang culture is rife and we have to stop it. All of these reasons may be true – but let’s see in time just who was rioting. It just feels too easy to blame those on low income, from poor backgrounds, social housing, living on benefits, no jobs.
Lots of people in our country have poor starts, bad parenting, terrible experiences – and they’ve used that positively for the greater good.
What I can say, as a mum, that my teenage children would not be out with a hammer strapped to his/her leg. At age 13, they would not be out roaming around with friends, especially if I knew that there was trouble.
While peer pressure is a powerful thing – it is not more powerful than having good parents. If I had to sit down with my child all day to prevent them doing wrong, then I would do it.
I’m no perfect mum but there are some basic things that I can control. I can control whether or not my child has a mobile phone, access to the internet, access to money.
These are all privileges which are removed in my home if rules are broken. These are punishments that older children really get – oh, the horror of having no access to a computer, or even worse, a mobile phone.
And I’m unmoved by protests – I grew up without any of those things and I survived!
Of course, I know as a journalist that’s it’s easy to pick those alleged rioters who are very young – when many more may have gone through the courts who are over 18, might be in work, or, in one case, received looted items but were not part of the actual riots.
Equally I know that police officers often show concern about the behaviour of certain children. It takes just a few individuals in a town who come from extremely troubled backgrounds to cause huge amounts of anti-social behaviour.
Here in Swindon, I’ve been told of so-called ‘feral’ children whose parents aren’t concerned about their whereabouts, their safety, their criminality. They often sleep rough, and move around the town. Their movements can often be tracked by the amount of low level crime that is being carried out.
If that’s true, and I’ve no reason to doubt it, how can you connect or engage with young people who have been abandoned so badly by their parents. Their boundaries are simply not the same as ours. What a sad,sad situation.
Have you ever looked into the eyes of a child with no hope? I have – and it will stop you in your tracks. There’s no answer to it, there are no platitudes that they will hear or respond to.
For parents of those children, they should be brought to book, they should face up to their dereliction. I’m not saying the children who commit crimes should not be punished – but they should also know that those who let them down, must also face justice.