Bullying Macho Parliament is No Place
for a Nice girl!
There was a really interesting interview with Green MP Caroline Lucas in a recent weekend Guardian.
I genuinely admire Caroline because, irrespective of her politics, she stays true to herself and maintains a certain dignity in doing so. This is how she described some of the bullying that goes on in the UK houses of Parliament in an extract from the Guardian interview:
“I have seen whips literally pushing people through the aye lobby and the no lobby, even if they are remonstrating and saying, ‘I don’t want to vote this way.’ They are pushed over, and once you go over the entrance way, you can’t come out again. You just have to hide in the toilets. People don’t know what they’re voting on, and I think that’s shocking.”
Shocking is a word she returns to time and again when talking about parliament, most often in the context of the power of the whips. Often, she says, whips will deliberately assign MPs to work on committees where they have no expertise, so they pose no threat. “There is a lot of bullying,” she says. Does she have contempt for the parliamentary system? “Yes, I think I do. That’s not a word I would use lightly. We pride ourselves on our democracy, but when you see the way it actually works, I think it is worthy of contempt. MPs should be doing a hell of a lot more to reduce the power of the whips and to increase the power of the backbench MPs; to actually have people here to make a difference, rather than simply toe the party line.”
Doesn’t it make you think of boys fighting in a playground. ‘Come and be in my gang – or else I’ll biff you one!’
I interviewed Caroline last year and in that interview she said:
That old boys’ club ‘Yes, Dear’ attitude is not unusual, even now. But we have some really great, talented women in Parliament. They’re still woefully under-represented though and there are those of us working hard to change that.
Making Mistakes is OK
Another interesting phenomenon happened recently. The leader of the Green party Natalie Bennett, had a few off days and gave a couple of duff interviews. Yet the membership sign up to the Green party had a wee surge following that. Isn’t that interesting? I think it’s because Natalie just held her hands up and agreed with the criticism. I don’t know the gender break down of those sign ups but I’d hazard a guess a fair few were women who are fed up with the old boys club way of doing things. Making a mistake wasn’t the end of the world for those new sign ups; they appreciated that she didn’t bluster and try to blame someone else. Refreshingly different to most of what we hear on TV and radio with carefully crafted ripostes and a culture of ‘soundbites’. (By the way, I was approached by a mainstream BBC programme and asked if I would argue the case that Natalie's treatment had been sexist. I said no, because accepting it's a sexist world anyway, it hadn't been. A classic example of news being presented in an male adversarial style.)
This is not a party political broadcast on behalf of the Green Party, merely some observations on the macho way our parliament works and how at least one woman is managing to rise above it.
Imagine how it could be if it was 50:50?
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