I'm writing this in a particular context.
There are allegations of sexual harassment in public life, and some tragic responses to those allegations.
There are criticisms of politicians and political activists for racism, or anti-Semitism specifically.
There are discussions about gender self-identification, riven with misunderstanding and hurt.
I write this to myself, to colleagues, friends and strangers, to members of the Labour Party and beyond, to anyone who believes in the value of equality and wants to be open to anything which could help fulfil that belief.
I write this because this is often hard; people feel uncomfortable; and sometimes language is hurtful, discriminatory or hateful, and it has an impact.
I write because we all need to find ways of hearing each other and being willing to learn, if we really believe in equality.
First, some definitions.
Language is discriminatory (sexist, racist, able-ist, homophobic or trans-phobic or prejudicial on grounds of religion) when it relies on stereotypes or demonises people because of their gender, colour, race or religion, their disability, sexuality or trans status. This is likely to be explicitly prohibited in workplace policies or guidance. It is usually not illegal, unless intended to cause hatred. Discriminatory or prejudiced language matters because use of stereotyping and demonisation of a particular demographic group helps to create a social and public space in which people who wish to harm others get encouragement, possibly unintentional, for their views.
Incitement to hatred is a crime. However, the context for this ‘hate crime’ includes the ways people speak about a particular group of people. Those men who believe they have a right to hurt their partner, for example, if they do not get their own way, gain comfort when they hear other male friends demeaning or stereotyping women, or making jokes about women which give out the message that women are worth less than men. Those who spread prejudiced ideas about Muslims, or people of colour, or foreigners – from the President of the USA to the angry person in the comments section of online news using thoughtless, unintentionally racist language – can all also create a context for acts of hatred. And this needs to change.
It is perfectly possible to be sexist or racist without intending to be. It would be naïve to imagine that any of us is immune to prejudice or stereotyping, no matter our intentions. We live in a world where prejudice has informed, caused and been a consequence of profoundly unequal and oppressive power relations for many centuries. Our history of discrimination against women, the history of slavery and colonialism – these are all still very present in our language, customs and recent history.
It is uncomfortable when we are challenged on our language. We may be hurt, we may want to defend ourselves from what we feel are unfair or undeserved accusations, or we may indulge in some ‘whataboutery’, where we try to excuse what we have said or done by comparing it with something else and saying it wasn’t that bad.
I learnt a lot about this, how to get past it, and why that is helpful, from working with men who were violent to their female partners and ex-partners, my job before I became an MP. They usually had an idea of themselves in their heads of being a good man, who respected women, but their behaviour gave out different messages. They often tried to justify what they had done, or minimise the impact, often by saying ‘it wasn’t that bad’, or they would blame someone or something else for it.
When I questioned them on their use of sexist language they would often deflect with classic 'whataboutery', saying that because these were words, not deeds, and not as bad as their physical abuse, that it did not matter. They might blame their partner, or me, for being sensitive, or not understanding them properly. They would often feel defensive or uncomfortable. They’d place themselves in the role of victim, for being unfairly challenged. But their feelings did not make them the victim. What’s more, focusing on their own perceived victim status could get in the way of changing their behaviour, as well as their speech. In my work with them, my (male) co-worker and I would have to help them to learn to sit with their discomfort, reflect on what they had said, and move beyond it to learning new ways of being and understanding others. It was particularly important that my male co-worker demonstrated respectful behaviour and speech about women in general and to me in particular, and that it was not left to me to challenge the sexism.
This work helped me to learn a lot about changing myself. So I say to us all: always consider that you might be mistaken. Of course, you might also be right. That’s possible. But what do you lose by being open-minded about the possibility that you may have something to learn?
Putting up barriers because you feel unfairly criticised is understandable, but it is unhelpful. Of course, you can decide you don’t care – and that’s up to you. But for those of us who believe in the value of equality and want to demonstrate those beliefs in how we are with the world around us, it’s a good idea to take a different approach.
Next time someone challenges your language, just try sitting with the feelings of discomfort. They will subside. Instead, listen to other people about the messages things you have said give to others about how you think the world should be. Don’t stoke up the situation with the fire of righteous indignation and try to quiet the internal monologue you have about ‘not meaning it in that way’. Just focus on the impact of your words on others. As the discomfort and defensiveness pass, if you take a decision to be open-minded, to accept that your language may not have matched up to the beliefs you hold dear, you will be in a better position to learn something which helps you to live up to your beliefs.
In the Labour Party, a belief in equality is written into our constitution and also our organisational DNA. Our party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has made it clear in recent speeches that he is utterly opposed to racism, and this includes specific mentions of his opposition to anti-Semitism and his commitment to policies to tackle this in the Labour Party. He has also declared his opposition to sexism and the sexual harassment which arises out of that ground. I agree with what Jeremy has said – his beliefs are truly Labour beliefs. But of course people inside the Labour party and outside sometimes struggle to live up to these beliefs. And of course there are many people outside the Labour Party who also feel that way, who believe in the value of equality.
This must not be left up to the group of people affected. It’s not enough for you not to be prejudiced. If you want the world around you to change, you have to get involved. Don’t just leave it to women to challenge sexism, or black people to challenge racism, or anyone else affected by prejudice to have to challenge it themselves.
So I call on all of us, me included, inside the Labour Party and outside, who believe in equality, to be willing to hear challenge, to listen, to debate. Doing so will help us all live up to the values which matter so much to us.
(Photo credit: William Arthur)
Dear friends, I'm writing this in a particular context. There are allegations of sexual harassment in public life, and some tragic responses to those allegations. There are criticisms of politicians and political...
The police are appealing for help in tracing the movements of a man whose body was found at a property on City Road in St Paul’s shortly before midday on Sunday 26 November.
Officers from Avon and Somerset’s Major Crime Investigation Team have launched a murder inquiry after a post mortem examination showed the man, who they believe to be 43-year-old Dean Sawyer, had been the victim of a serious assault.
I know Dean’s family have been informed and trained officers are offering support to his family. This is a dreadful incident and I send them my heartfelt condolences and sympathies.
As part of their investigation the police are keen to talk to anyone who knew Dean and who may have seen him recently, or have information about his recent activities – however insignificant you think it might be. I urge anyone with any information to contact the Major Crime Investigation Team on 101 and quote reference number 5217271092.
If you don’t want to speak to the police, you can call the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. They don’t ask for your name and they never trace your call. You can also visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org.
The police are appealing for help in tracing the movements of a man whose body was found at a property on City Road in St Paul’s shortly before midday on...
Last Friday, as part of National HIV Testing Week, the fantastic team at Terrence Higgins Trust came to the office to give me a free, fast and easy HIV test. A very simple finger-prick blood test, and a mere 20 minutes later I had a result.
Getting an HIV test has never been easier. But new figures released by Public Health England indicate that, although we’re seeing a decline in new HIV infections, 44 per cent of people diagnosed with HIV in Bristol are diagnosed late.
It’s why I was happy to support National HIV Testing Week in encouraging others to know the benefits of testing; and to work with Terrence Higgins Trust to help end the stigma that still surrounds HIV and testing for it.
Effective treatment means that, if you test positive, you can live as long as anyone else and medication reduces the amount of virus in your blood to such low levels that you cannot pass on HIV.
Testing is quick and simple, and it's one of the best weapons we have to stop the spread of HIV.
Last Friday, as part of National HIV Testing Week, the fantastic team at Terrence Higgins Trust came to the office to give me a free, fast and easy HIV test. A very simple finger-prick...
Today (Wednesday 22 November) I challenged the Prime Minister to reform our failing, outdated drugs laws and urged her to watch the new BBC One documentary Drugsland, filmed in Bristol West, which shows the devastating impact of drugs on our city.
Following last night’s airing of the first episode of the hard-hitting documentary, I kicked off Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons by asking:
“Mr Speaker, the BBC are currently broadcasting Drugsland, a documentary series shot in my constituency of Bristol West, showing the catastrophic impact of drugs and drugs laws, not just on users but on the police and innocent bystanders. So will the Prime Minister commit to watching Drugsland and to a Royal Commission on our drugs laws which are plainly failing?”
Theresa May replied: “I’m pleased to say the Home Office under my honourable friend the Home Secretary launched the government’s drugs strategy only a matter of weeks ago. We recognise the importance of this issue: drugs significantly affect people’s lives and sadly we also see people dying as a result of taking drugs but also the criminal activity that takes place around drugs. We take this very seriously; that’s why we’ve launched our strategy.”
I’ve already highlighted some of the deficiencies in the government’s long-overdue drugs strategy in my speech during the debate on 18 July 2017. So I’m glad Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP for Reigate, picked up my question again, half an hour later, and urged the Prime Minister to look again at our drugs laws in the light of changes globally.
But sadly Theresa May’s responses, both to me and her own MP, indicate she has no intention of altering UK drugs policy.
Over the past year I’ve taken part in the filming of the BBC documentary Drugsland. The four-part series focuses on the world of drugs, as seen through of the eyes of professionals, users and dealers in Bristol.
During this process, I analysed the ways drugs affect everyone – not just those using drugs, or their families and friends, but all of us. I met drug treatment specialists and people on drug treatment programmes. I was briefed by leading researchers and by clinicians developing testing facilities so that people can find out exactly what's in the substance they intend to take. I discussed drugs with people on the doorstep around Bristol West and with policy makers in the council and at Westminster.
I feature in Episode 4, which looks at the politics, policy and legislation. In it, I suggests that our out-of-date drug laws don’t protect people from harm and an evidence-based reform of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is long overdue. I believe it’s failing everyone: users, their family and friends, the police and the wider community. And I think there’s good evidence that prohibition is now part of the problem, not the solution.
Episode 4 will be broadcast on BBC One at 10:45pm on Tuesday 19 December 2017, but will be available on iPlayer on Tuesday 5 December.
You can watch the exchange in the House of Commons below:
Today (Wednesday 22 November) I challenged the Prime Minister to reform our failing, outdated drugs laws and urged her to watch the new BBC One documentary Drugsland, filmed in Bristol...
I was very happy to support the National Autism Project at the launch of their Autism Agenda at a recent event in Parliament.
An estimated 700,000 autistic people live in the UK. The Autism Agenda showcases the National Autism Project’s recommendations to highlight barriers that autistic people face and how these can be addressed. These include timely identification and diagnosis, removing barriers to accessing social care and fighting stigma and discrimination.
Supporting the National Autism Project on the day were major national charities - the National Autistic Society, Autistica and the Autism Alliance as well as the Westminster Commission on Autism.
I have written previously on this website about autism awareness and about tackling the autism employment gap. Making Bristol an autism-friendly city has been one of my priorities since I was first elected and I recently held the UK’s first MP surgery specifically for autistic people in my constituency. (You can read more about the event in the i-paper).
More about the National Autism Project
The National Autism Project is a three-year project that was established in 2015 to analyse the evidence base for autism interventions and identify research gaps. It’s committed to addressing the needs of autistic people through greater investment in research and better practice.
Supported by The Shirley Foundation, the project brought together a wide range of experts including autistic people, resulting in a major research study, The Autism Dividend: Reaping the Rewards of Better Investment, which is widely regarded as the most comprehensive and far reaching review of the field that has been undertaken to date.
In its final months, the project wants to ensure its work acts as a springboard for action on the policy and research recommendations of the report.
I was very happy to support the National Autism Project at the launch of their Autism Agenda at a recent event in Parliament. An estimated 700,000 autistic people live in...
Air pollution is a silent killer in Bristol. Poor air quality is linked to over 300 premature deaths in the city every year.
On Saturday, I hosted a public meeting in central Bristol to learn more about the scale of the problem in the city, and to discuss what could be done to reduce the pollution in Bristol’s air. I was joined by Councillor Fi Hance – Cabinet Member for Energy, Waste and Regulatory Services at Bristol City Council), Dr Jo Barnes – Senior Research Fellow at the Air Quality Management Resource Centre based at UWE, and Harriet Edwards from the British Lung Foundation.
Harriet explained that 12 million people in the UK are diagnosed with a lung condition, and emphasised that air pollution affects the development of children’s lungs.
Jo described the excellent work of the EU-funded Clair City project, where you can look at an air pollution map of Bristol. Clair City will be launching an app and a game in April 2018 which will allow you to suggest your own solutions to the air quality crisis in the city.
Fi discussed how poor air quality particularly affected different areas of Bristol. In Lawrence Hill, up to 11% of premature deaths are linked to air pollution. She also described how diesel vehicles are responsible for 96% of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) emissions in the city. She then went on to explain that the Council had won a £0.5 million grant to work towards setting up a Clean Air Zone and that they were aiming to present a proposal to the government in December 2018.
I then explained how the government needs to take air pollution seriously as a health and an environmental crisis and how different European cities’ approach to street infrastructure helps promote alternatives to cars as a means of transport.
Over 70 people came along and posed some fantastic questions and suggestions: on how to improve communication when local pollution levels become dangerous; on enforcement of local regulations on using wood-burning stoves and idling their cars; on the importance of including air pollution and air quality in schools’ curriculum and lots more besides.
As a direct result of the event, I will be writing to the Minister for Climate Change and Industry, and the Mayor of Bristol to encourage them to take further action to help us tackle air pollution in the city. I also got lots of ideas for how we can take action to clean up the air in our city.
You can watch a recording of the event below – and do join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #BristolBreathingBetter.
Air pollution is a silent killer in Bristol. Poor air quality is linked to over 300 premature deaths in the city every year. On Saturday, I hosted a public meeting...
I'm delighted to say that, as part of my ongoing campaign to support the rights of refugees, I've successfully persuaded the government to instruct banks to accept refugees’ biometric residence permits (BRPs) as valid ID for opening bank accounts.
After lobbying from me and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees, which I chair, Economic Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay MP has now contacted UK Finance, the association representing nearly 300 of the leading firms in the finance and banking sectors. He has insisted that people with refugee status and a government-issued BRP have a legal right to a basic bank account and must be able to exercise that right.
The move is effectively a sharp rap on the knuckles of some major banks. It means that many hundreds of refugees across the UK, with leave to remain and a right to work in the UK, will find it easier to find employment, pay bills and access other services.
The recent inquiry of the APPG on Refugees, which I initiated, had uncovered a widespread reluctance by banks to give accounts to people with refugee status, despite their legal right to have one. The removal of this obstacle was one of the key recommendations of the group’s report Refugees Welcome?, published in April 2017 this year, and has been welcomed by refugee support groups.
When granted status, refugees just want to get on with building a new life. But, time and time again, obstacles are needlessly and sometimes illegally put in the way of some of our most vulnerable residents. A bank account is important for many reasons and banks are already aware that anyone with a valid BRP has a legal right to open a basic account. But some banks have been dragging their heels, and I’m grateful to the minister for making it clear to the banks that their actions are unacceptable.
In his letter Economic Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay MP said that, while understanding the challenges banks face in accommodating a range of customers with different needs, he found ‘any policy decision not to accept BRPs disappointing, given the clear industry guidance to approaches to non-standard documentation’. He stressed that ‘any holder of a valid BRP is legally resident in the UK, subject to any restriction or conditions displayed in the card.’
In his reply to the minister (partly redacted), UK Finance CEO Stephen Jones expressed disappointment that refugees had encountered difficulties with the banks and agreed that BRPs are not a cause for concern. He agreed to ‘take this issue forward immediately with those senior staff responsible for personal current accounts across our membership to ensure that their processes reflect this.’
Our ‘Refugees Welcome?’ report also highlighted other problems faced by refugees. One of these relates to the five documents refugees should receive, once granted status, in order to be able to move on from asylum accommodation, get a job, a bank account, a home and all the other basics a refugee need in order to settle and integrate.
Sadly these five documents do not all arrive simultaneously, causing hardship and in some cases destitution. The APPG recommended in our report that all five documents should be provided at the same time, when a refugee is granted status, and I have already taken this up with the Minister for Immigration, who has asked his officials to look at this. I’ll be keeping a close eye on progress here too.
I'm delighted to say that, as part of my ongoing campaign to support the rights of refugees, I've successfully persuaded the government to instruct banks to accept refugees’ biometric residence...
I, for one, am not sick of experts.
In fact, I'm inclined to listen to experts very intently when it comes to safeguarding nuclear products used, for example, in medical imaging technology.
And when experts commenting on this issue tell me they've got severe concerns about the government's plans to make us leave Euratom, I think that the government should sit up and take notice.
On Tuesday I sat on the bill committee for the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. It's part of my job as a whip to recruit Labour MPs to that committee who have the expertise to challenge the government on their plans. We scrutinise - line by line - the legislation that will govern the regulations and safety structures around nuclear material used in many industries in the UK.
On Tuesday, senior nuclear energy lawyers who were giving evidence to the committee stated that we do not have to leave Euratom if (and it is still very much an if) we leave the EU in 2019. You can see the Hansard transcript here.
And at the same committee, the Deputy Chief Inspector for the Office for Nuclear Regulation said we will not be able to create a structure that replicates Euratom by the time we are due to leave the EU under the terms of Article 50 (again, the Hansard transcript is available here).
So today, I asked the government to consider the risks, and keep our membership of Euratom on the table as part of any Brexit deal. The minister Steve Baker MP refused, claiming we need to leave Euratom if we are to leave the EU.
I listen to experts. I consider it a vital part of my job as someone who contributes to shaping UK law. And on something as vital as the safety of our nuclear industry, I wish the government would listen too.
You can watch my question to the Brexit department - and the answer - below:
I, for one, am not sick of experts. In fact, I'm inclined to listen to experts very intently when it comes to safeguarding nuclear products used, for example, in medical...
This month I helped to launch a new group to support children and young people with cancer and to strength their voice in Parliament. It had been a long time in the planning, and there’s now a huge amount for us to do, but the All Party Parliamentary Group on Children, Teenagers and Young Adults with Cancer (APPG CTYAC) is now up and running. And I’m proud to be its Chair.
The launch in Parliament on 11 October saw children, young people, their parents, several MPs and charity representatives come together to speak about what matters to young people with cancer.
Recent developments in cancer care have recognised that young people with cancer have unique needs, but we still need to make progress in cancer services to improve diagnosis, access to age-specific care and post-treatment support for this patient group.
As experts in children and young people with cancer, Teenage Cancer Trust and CLIC Sargent have teamed up to provide administrative support as the secretariat for this pioneering group. And I’m delighted that Filton and Bradley Stoke MP Jack Lopresti has agreed to be Vice-Chair, with fellow MPs Jim Shannon, Ruth George and Mark Tami all agreeing to be officers of the group. A further 29 MPs either attended the launch or have expressed an interest in joining the group.
For those who missed it, here’s the column I wrote for the Bristol Post on Friday 20 October.
As a Member of Parliament, I fight for what the people of Bristol West care about. Sometimes this means campaigning on things that affect us all, like pollution or climate change. Sometimes it means helping individual people in difficulty.
But sometimes it means prioritising something which affects very few people, but which hurts those it affects so badly that pretty much everyone would probably want me to prioritise it.
Hearing that a child you love has cancer is devastating. Thankfully it’s rare, but that’s part of the problem with childhood cancers –because they’re rare, they’re tricky to research and this makes treatment hard. Often it makes treatment very harsh, with horrendous side-effects. There are also longer-term impacts of the treatment, such as the risk of infertility, or disability.
Parents, on top of the fears and anxieties of their child’s illness, often struggle to keep their job at the same time as caring for a very sick child. Brothers and sisters miss their sibling and may also miss out on time with their parents, or be preoccupied at school worrying about what is happening.
Since I became an MP I’ve met families living in the CLIC Sargent house in Kingsdown for families affected by childhood cancer. I’ve spent time in the teenage cancer ward at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, talking to staff and young people. I’ve worked closely with CLIC Sargent and Teenage Cancer Trust, raising questions of Health Ministers, launching research on the costs of childhood cancer, and listening to children, young people and families, about how cancer has affected them.
Their voices need to be heard throughout Parliament. They have specific needs and experiences which government needs to listen to. And families affected by childhood cancer need champions in Parliament to do this.
So over the last six months I have worked with CLIC Sargent and Teenage Cancer Trust to establish the All Party Parliamentary Group on Children, Teenagers and Young Adults with Cancer. This cross-party working group will promote the very specific experiences and needs families affected by childhood cancer have. We launched the group last week and I was delighted that MPs from all parties came along to hear the young people and parents who spoke, and to offer to help. We have a lot to do, but we’re very determined.
During my time as a Member of Parliament I’ll always work hard on problems affecting most or all of the people I represent. But I know you will also back me in prioritising childhood cancer, even though this is something which, thankfully, affects very few people.
More about the APPG CTYAC
The APPG CTYAC intends to provide a valuable opportunity to raise awareness of the issues affecting children, teenagers and young adults with cancer and their families in Parliament.
In particular, the group aims to: scrutinise the effectiveness of the system supporting young cancer patients throughout their experience of cancer; influence Government policy to reflect the needs of children, teenagers and young adults with cancer; provide a forum for discussion in Parliament of the key issues affecting children and young people with cancer; champion the voices of young cancer patients and their families to ensure their experiences are represented to Parliament and government; and bring together and engage with relevant stakeholders supporting young cancer patients and their families.
This month I helped to launch a new group to support children and young people with cancer and to strength their voice in Parliament. It had been a long time...
As a Breast Cancer Now Ambassador, I was proud to dress in pink today (Friday 20 October) to lend my support the charity’s flagship fundraiser, Wear it Pink.
I know thousands of other people across the UK, including my office staff and many fellow MPs, also added a splash of pink to their outfits to show their support for all the women and men affected by breast cancer each year.
The event, taking place during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is now in its 16th year and has raised over £30 million to date for Breast Cancer Now’s life-saving research.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. One in eight women will face it in their lifetime, and every year around 11,500 women and 80 men lose their lives to the disease. Over the years this event has shown itself to be a fun and easy way to raise funds Breast Cancer Now’s vital research, and help stop breast cancer taking the lives of those we love.
More information about Breast Cancer Now:
- Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s largest breast cancer charity.
- Breast Cancer Now’s ambition is that by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live. The charity is determined to stop women dying from the disease, working in a new, collaborative way and bringing together all those affected by breast cancer to fund research, share knowledge and find answers.
- Breast Cancer Now’s world-class research is focused entirely on breast cancer. The charity supports nearly 400 of the world’s brightest researchers at more than 30 locations across the UK and Ireland. Together, they’re working to discover how to prevent breast cancer, how to detect it earlier and how to treat it effectively at every stage so we can stop the disease taking lives.
- Breast cancer is still the most common cancer in the UK. Nearly 700,000 people living in the UK have experienced a diagnosis and one in eight women will face it in their lifetime. This year alone, more than 50,000 women will be told they have the disease.
- The UK still has one of the lowest breast cancer survival rates in Western Europe and this year alone around 11,500 women and 80 men will lose their lives. It’s time to act.
- Breast Cancer Now launched in June 2015, created by the merger of leading research charities Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
- For more information on Breast Cancer Now’s work, visit breastcancernow.org.
As a Breast Cancer Now Ambassador, I was proud to dress in pink today (Friday 20 October) to lend my support the charity’s flagship fundraiser, Wear it Pink. I know thousands of other...