Body Confidence

The Sunday Times carried an article today by Marie Woolf on how the Liberal Democrat Body Confidence campaign which was founded by myself and Jo Swinson will be carried forward in government. In the coalition agreement – there is a reference to ‘responsible advertising and the commercialisation and sexualisation of children’. So it fits partly with that – but partly too – with the public health part of the agreement.

There is a growing army of programs, articles, etc because there is a growing awareness of the detriment caused. We always hear about eating disorders – but whilst there is some evidence of a connection in this regard – there are often more reasons than one for that devastating outcome. However, additionally, the constant pressure to look impossibly perfect, be like the skinny celebrities and conform to imposed stereotypes is creating a rising tide of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and so on.

Gok Wan’s ‘How to Look Good Naked’, Susie Orbach; Erin O’Connor, Debra Bourne and Caryn Franklin’s campaign: All Walks Beyond the Catwalk; Girl Guides with their campaign on anorexia and bulimia – and many more – all recognising the pressure now applied to women, girls and coming up fast – men too – to conform to impossibly perfect images.

In the last session, Jo and I held a seminar on Body Confidence. There are so many groups out there working on this issue – because of the constant and unremitting diet of false images that is fed to us and the harm it is doing. Backed by academics and the Royal College of Psychiatrists – the campaign to make advertisements honest and transparent, teach children media literacy, get fashion schools to teach students to cut a range of sizes, encourage more and different sports for young people – found itself joining up with a whole host of work in the same direction.

That seminar was pivotal. When we saw the work and the need for a joined up push back at the fashion, beauty, food , magazine and advertising industries being fought by individual Davids against these mega Goliaths – we brought it to last Autumn’s LibDem conference as part of our new ‘Real Women’ policy paper – where it passed. It was also in our manifesto at the election.

The Conservatives too, have been very concerned about the pressure particularly on young girls – hence the inclusion of all of this in the coalition agreement. 

In the autumn, we are gathering some of the key people who want to take this forward to a round table discussion on next steps. Amongst those will be representatives from: Girl Guides, YMCA, Mumsnet, All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, Susie Orbach and others.

We have no desire to impose regulation or restriction on advertisers or others – so we will be looking to work with the industries involved on a voluntary basis – in the first instance.

Real Women

I see that a German magazine, Brigitte, is catching up with Liberal Democrat policy. You can read here a Times Online article about the fact that this magazine has now resolved to use real women in its pages.

The Liberal Democrats, myself as Equalities Spokesperson and Jo Swinson, MP as Chair of the Policy Working Group welcome this debate widening. So many women and young people are made to feel bad by the constant drip drip of perfected images (perfected by airbrushing and retouching) that surround us on a daily basis. The LibDem policy arising from the working group and passed at last autumn’s conference would see advertisers have to inform the public whether the ad has been retouched. It’s not about stopping advertisers – it’s about introducing some honesty and transparency.

Question Nick Clegg on Monday

On Monday Nick Clegg is going to take part in a live, never been done before, online equivalent to his Town Hall meetings around the country:

On Monday we can change the way we do politics. Every week I travel around the country to meet people in their local town halls and listen to their views. Anyone can come along and ask me (just about) anything and in return I get a pretty good picture of how people across the UK feel about politics and how they are being affected by the recession.

Next week I am going to do another of my public Q&A meetings, but this time it is going to be live and online so that you can ask me your questions from home, your work or wherever you happen to be online. There will be no script and no special invitations – just get in touch and ask a question on subjects that concern you.

The one thing that keeps coming up again and again is the state of our politics and how we can clean it up. Many people say they would like to see action taken against MPs who seriously abuse the system. But currently voters have no power to sack those MPs who have been found guilty of serious wrong-doing. I want to change this and make politicians more accountable and politics more transparent. I am keen to hear your ideas.

This has never been done before so, on Monday 13th July post your questions and let’s discuss how we can clean up politics and fix the British economy.

For full details, see the Reuters website.

At the same time, I (chair of the Lib Dem Technology Advisory Board) will be holding a discussion with grassroots activists at Lib Dem HQ, and feeding their questions back to Nick.

Jo Swinson MP (who regularly offers the finest twitter coverage of Prime Minister’s Questions, and has campaigned for coverage of Parliament to be available on YouTube) will be taking part over at Reuters, discussing her use of social media in her work.

Join us online on Monday 13 July at 1pm!

Who gets to be our monarch?

So – Gordon Brown is finally ‘having discussions’ about the antiquated customs that surround accession to the throne – the monarch not being able to marry a Catholic (Jews, Muslims and atheists are OK) and women get shunted out of line to the throne by the boys. So – hurrah! Except he is only doing it because my Lib Dem colleague Evan Harris, in his Private Members’ Bill today on this subject, is forcing the issue.

As indeed, I have forced it myself before. That time the Government conceded the issue – but said the Commonwealth was the sticking point. Labour has already says it would bring this in in a fourth term. Yes – stop laughing. Sometime never! The Bill is unlikely to get through today for Parliamentary reasons too tedious to go into, like Labour talking out the Bill or 100 MPs not being there for the Bill to pass etc. – Fridays are constituency days so most MPs go back to their area on a Thursday night, and unless the Government is going to let the Bill pass or – as with the recent Autism Bill – everyone agrees to turn up, nothing comes to pass.

There is a long line of MPs who have tried to get these most symbolic of inequalities ended including Jeffrey Archer, myself, Jo Swinson, Evan Harris and many others – but hopefully days are now numbered. I post the exchange in Parliament during questions last year on both Catholics and women:

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Here is a representation for the Minister. Next weekend, Peter Phillips is due to marry Autumn Kelly; she has had to convert to the Church of England to preserve his place in succession to the throne. I am sure that the whole House will want to wish the happy couple well on their big day, but would it not be better to send them a wedding present by using the equality Bill to abolish that institutional discrimination against Catholics?

Barbara Follett: I think that I will confine myself to congratulating the happy couple, and wishing them well in their marriage, which, as hon. Members know, requires a lot of adjustments on both sides at the beginning, middle and end.

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): The Minister may be aware that I referred the case of Lady Louise being bumped out of line to the throne to the European Court of Human Rights, and it has responded positively, supporting the principle of getting rid of male primogeniture. The Solicitor-General made positive comments about that change being in the Act, and I congratulate the Government on that and welcome it. Does the Minister agree that it is very disappointing when those on the Tory Benches slide backwards and say that because it is difficult in the Commonwealth— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is not for the Minister to concern herself with Conservative party policy. The hon. Lady has been called because she is a Liberal spokesman, so she should put her question to the Minister.

Lynne Featherstone: You are right, Mr. Speaker, as always. Will the Minister assure me that the difficulties of working this through the Commonwealth should not stand in the way of its being done? It is right that it should be done, and we have heard from all parties that it should be done, so will the Minister confirm that view?

Barbara Follett: This kind of change in our country, which has a long tradition, is always difficult. Before any change is brought in, we will try to build a cross-party consensus, and a cross-Commonwealth consensus. Primogeniture is a problem, and it is offensive, but we have to approach the matter cautiously.

MPs expenses and freedom of information

Well – this is back in the news! The latest proposal in the on-going saga of MPs expenses is to exempt us from freedom of information rules, and so avoid having to publish full details.

My view is that we MPs should have the same rules as everyone else: same sorts of evidence required for expense claims as in a normal workplace, and same transparency rules as others.

I don’t see why the House of Commons administration should not be the body to whom all expenses are submitted and then they check that it is all bona fide. And nor do I see why MPs should have some special freedom of information exemption.

Glad to say that opposition to the suggestions that MPs should be exempted from these freedom of information rules is shared by David Heath and Nick Clegg! My colleague Jo Swinson is also putting down a motion in Parliament against the exemption idea. I think it would be madness for MPs to be exempted.

More on the campaign at MySociety, Matt Wardman and these two Facebook groups.

I go to a hanging

Went to a hanging! Well – not quite. As Shadow Minister for Women I went to celebrate the ‘hanging’ of the portraits of women MPs in our party groups at the National Portrait Gallery.

This project to celebrate women in the House as well as all the anniversaries this year of womens’ suffrage was driven forward by Boni Somes of Women’s Parliamentary Radio amongst other projects.

Boni had managed to get us all together in our party groups and be photographed on the steps opposite Westminster Hall entrance – albeit on the Liberal Democrat one Julia Goldsworthy and I had to be photo-shopped in. It was an impossible task – but Boni managed it.

Anyway Angela Eagle for the Government, Teresa May for the Tories and myself all spoke and championed the need for more images of women and celebrations thereof – to encourage more women to come and join us. To support the cause – Lib Dem MPs Jo Swinson, Susan Kramer and Sandra Gidley rallied to the cause.

There was a view that the portraits would be better hung at Parliament – so in fact I believe that is what will happen.

Two ways to drag Parliament into the modern world

Two apparently small – but actually both important and symbolic – campaigns have just been launched to modernise Parliament’s attitude towards the internet.

First – my colleague Jo Swinson who is calling for Parliament to axe its ban on YouTube. The current situation is – MPs can take footage of them in Parliament and put them on their own website, but they can’t put the footage on anything like YouTube.

Well – I think that’s wrong because not only is using YouTube or similar the easiest and best way of putting footage on your own site, but also – we should be putting information about what is going on in Parliament out there in as many different places as possible. It’s not as if our political system is suffering from having too much interest from the public!

You can back Jo’s campaign on Facebook.

Second – the good folks at They Work For You have a campaign to get information about legislation going through Parliament in a more sensible electronic format.

All power to them too – making information about what’s going on in Parliament available in a convenient way for others to then use is just what a Parliament that wants to engage with the public should be all about. And we’ve got the record of sites such as to see just how powerful the results can be when information is made available in a sensible format.

The whole way the wording of legislation is handled in Parliament is archaic, and often I feel it’s almost designed to deliberate obscure what is actually going on. The system behaves as if the idea of having a document with track changes in it had never been thought of – so when you get one version of part of a bill replaced with another, you don’t get a marked up copy showing what changes are being proposed, but instead you just get a whole lot of text dumped on you that then has to be checked line by line, word by word to see what’s changed. Daft!

So – do go and back this campaign too and let’s hope this is one more step towards improving Parliament.

Other blog postings about the campaign: Guido and

Meanwhile, over on Liberal Democrat Voice…

Two postings today that have caught my eye – as they mention myself!

First – Alex Foster on that issue of the moment – the monarchy and sexism.

Second – Jo Swinson has her latest piece publicising the (Lib Dem) Campaign for Gender Balance blog awards.

The existence of these awards has caused a bit of a fuss I know (why have awards just for female bloggers?) – but I think they are a good idea in highlighting good female blogs and in encouraging other women to blog. The proportion of Lib Dem political bloggers who are female – for example – is much lower than the proportion of our members who are female or our councillors who are female and so on. I could write all night on the different possible reasons for this, but overall – to me it says that there’s something here worth doing a little to remedy.

If the Lib Dem blogosphere is an expression of views from across the party, it’s good if that expression reflects reasonably the different parts of the party – new and experienced, elected representatives and armchair members, young and old and so on – all the different characteristics which can lead to different views and perspectives and yes – that also include male and female.

So yes – some encouragement is good. I didn’t need the existence of such awards to encourage me to blog obviously – but similar awards in other areas do have a good impact in encouraging greater diversity. So here’s hoping that these awards too do their own bit to help move us forward.

My appearance in The Sun

So – back from the wilds of Brighton and the Liberal Democrat conference. Just a few ‘tidy ups’ as I was basically blogging by video diary.

I didn’t understand the reference at the time that the Chair, Jon Ball, made to me a one of the four Lib Dem Sun ‘lovelies’ when he introduced my keynote speech on Wednesday. Coming home – some kind person (!) has emailed me the link – and there I am with Jo Swinson (27), Julia Goldsworthy (29) and Kirsty Williams (36). Sadly – they do publish my age! Still – whereas I used to just rail against the innate sexism in such articles – now (at my advanced age) I am just grateful!

More seriously, on the last morning, the speaker who summated in the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students Emergency Motion on Darfur, a Darfuri Abdo Abdullah, gave a most powerful speech.

We had had the Global Day of Action on Darfur on the Monday (blogged about by one of the organisers here). But there is nothing more powerful to advocate both the need for speed of deployment of the AU/UN hybrid force and the need for our government to stop sending Darfuris back to torture and murder – then someone standing in front of you who has seen his own family murdered.

I spoke in this debate and of course, made Darfur one of the key issues in my keynote speech the day before – but will the Government act? Brown says he wants troops deployed earlier than next year. Given he is Prime Minister, he has the power to push it – but he seems satisfied with warm words alone. Cold comfort to dying Darfuris.

You can see more of my conference photos over on Flickr.