A book you have been waiting for!
A book that joins the dots between neoliberalism and sexism, between equal pay, war zones, the veil, The Wire, the web and welfare states…a new way of thinking about where we’re at.
A book you have been waiting for!
A book that joins the dots between neoliberalism and sexism, between equal pay, war zones, the veil, The Wire, the web and welfare states…a new way of thinking about where we’re at.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, transgender debates have got — if not worse exactly, then — nastier.
The description ’transphobic’ has been thrown at the Morning Star newspaper for running debates on transgender themes.
Actually, the paper is with the zeitgeist, consistently publishing positive reports on transgender people’s rights — as well as trans and feminist debates and differences. It is hard to imagine a ‘straight’ paper less deserving of the slur.
It is an index of just how hot this is that a mighty 300 people have signed a letter supporting the paper and repudiating the ‘phobe’ attack.
Transgender campaigns for recognition have been stunningly successful. Laws have been changed, minds and bodies and cultures are being changed; characters appear in successful TV series, from Coronation Street to Orange is the New Black….and transwomen have become stars:
Bruce Jenner’s re-incarnation as Caitlyn Jenner gets a Vanity Fair cover and an American Glamour Women of the Year award.
I’m not talking to you
And yet, and yet…. amidst these triumphs there is a wave of bullying that, in the name of of sympathy for trans people’s suffering and struggles out of marginalisation, seeks to whip, so to say, public debate into submission.
In this context, Miranda Yardley is a rare voice: a regular contributor to the great convo, including in the Morning Star, and a robust and rigorous advocate of feminism and the specifics of transsexualism, with much to say about the state of transgender politics.
She has exposed how the no-platforming of feminists alleged to be ‘transphobic’ and ‘whorephobic’ is bleeding into the transgender community itself.
Paris Lees has one of the highest profiles in the transgender pantheon. Here are some of Paris Lees’ contributions to these great debates.
Murder, mayhem and minding your words
Prof. Sarah Ahmed is an exponent of the ‘you are killing me/us…’ discourse.
And here is her passionate no platforming piece.
In May the New Statesman and the London Review of Books published two long, wide and deeply thoughtful pieces on transgender themes by two smart public intellectuals and writers on gender, Sarah Ditum and Jacqueline Rose:
Sarah Ditum, the Staggers’ witty, always reflective columnist.
Jacqueline Rose, an LRB regular, Professor of Humanities at Birkbeck, a questing, often elegantly ambivalent writer.
My own participation is concerned with censorship, no platforming and the silencing of debate and dissent.
No to no-platforming
This is my response to comments on no platforming in the otherwise subtle essay by Jacqueline Rose:
‘I am pretty sure that, were I transsexual, I wouldn’t want [Germaine] Greer on any platform of mine,’ Jacqueline Rose writes (LRB, 5 May). But she isn’t transsexual and public platforms don’t belong to her, or to transsexuals or to anyone else: they belong to the collective we – the public. Public platforms aren’t places for chats between pals. They exist in a forum where we, the public, get to hear people, be in their presence, listen, learn, call them to account; a forum where we get to join in public conversation, where we do politics.
Rose understands that of course, and she states her position: ‘I tend to be opposed to no-platforming.’ But she sets Greer up as the demonic person who goes too far, who breaches Rose’s own tendency and warrants banishment. Greer is an easy target. Her opinions on transgender issues are described as ‘hateful’. ‘Hate’ and ‘phobia’ are part of the hyperbolic lexicon of trans debates. Another pioneering feminist activist, Julie Bindel, has been declared ‘vile’ and no-platformed in resolutions affirming trans rights passed by conferences of the National Union of Students. Bindel is cheeky, irreverent and occasionally offensive. She is also an adroit campaigner for justice for the most marginalised and maligned women. But the NUS does not allow students to hear her in person, or to be heard by her.
That is why the no-platforming of feminists in the name of trans sensibilities is so toxic: it not only silences some feminist voices and purges legitimate feminist discourse from some public platforms, it excludes students themselves from active participation, from challenging and changing their own and other people’s minds. I once invited an NUS women’s officer to debate that ban in public. No, she said. So, a feminist is consigned to the NUS proscribed list, along with neo-fascists.
More recently I suggested that one of Britain’s leading gay journals – I won’t name and shame – host a round-table. No, they said. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Are you frightened?’ Yes, they said. I suggested the same thing to an Oxbridge political journal. No, they didn’t think they would or could, they said, because university must be a safe space, like home. As if every home is safe! As if debate is dangerous.
I should declare an interest: Jacqueline and I are old friends, we have enjoyed agreeing and disagreeing with each other for years. But I find myself foxed: why in 15,000 words is Greer’s purported hatefulness flagged, but not the bullying that flays feminism? The sexual revolution wrought by feminist and gay activism has, of course, changed the political landscape in which trans lives can be lived. It co-exists with the commodification of gender archetypes and the reinstatement of seemingly polarised and parodic masculinities and femininities. All of this can be aired in feminist forums and, say, Mumsnet, but not in trans/feminist discourse in the NUS.
As I write, up pops the following notification from ‘youngradfems’:
Unfortunately we’ve had to take down the post ‘how I became a cis-privileged shitlord’ because the author was scared of being outed as a DISGUSTING TERF [trans-exclusionary radical feminist] BITCH if her fellow students found out about her radical feminist views. Yet another example of radical feminist young women being bullied into silence.
The NUS impulse to no-platform feminists who problematise transsexualism or prostitution, who attract the abusive designation ‘transphobic’ and ‘whorephobic’ (they often go together), has migrated to other venues and organisations.
In February 2015 Deborah Cameron and I gathered more than 130 signatures to a letter published in the Observer opposing no-platforming and the stifling of debate. Rose was not one of them. It was provoked by the Bindel ban, new purges, and threats to feminist students and to the comedian Kate Smurthwaite at Goldsmiths (she has expressed support for the ‘Nordic model’ – criminalising the purchase of sex); it also referred to the Germaine Greer kerfuffle, and the ugly harassment of the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read. He’d written a philosophical essay on transgender and feminist issues in 2013 but two years later he was subjected to a public thrashing. People threatened to picket his election appearances as a Green Party candidate. ‘There are few things more conservative,’ Sarah Brown, a transgender former LibDem councillor in Cambridge, wrote about Read, ‘than the view that trans people are dirty perverts who shouldn’t be indulged in our supposed delusion, that sex workers are wanton harlots who are certainly to be discouraged, and that masturbation is some kind of social ill that needs eradicating.’
Read, of course, held no such opinions. But that didn’t matter. Following relentless attacks on social media, including death threats, and with the Green Party itself thoroughly spooked, Read had to ‘retract’ things that he had never said in the first place. Brown, a leading trans activist, had form, a talent for spite. In a public riposte to a fellow Cambridge councillor, she wrote: ‘I invite you to suck my formaldehyde pickled balls.’ This field is bloodied with ‘hatefulness’.
Our ‘no to no-platforming’ Observer letter said: ‘You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic. Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying. We call on universities and other organisations to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.’ The signatories included scholars and activists, transsexuals, people for and against prostitution united by commitment to democratic debate and opposition to no-platforming.
One of the signatories was Mary Beard. She – like Deborah and I – didn’t know what all the signatories thought about the contested issues, but the day after the letter appeared she wrote on her blog that they included ‘many I am proud to be next to: Nimko Ali, Peter Tatchell, Lisa Appignanesi, Melissa Benn, Caroline Criado-Perez, Catherine Hall, Gia Milinovich, Sophie Scott, Francesca Stavrakopoulou, and loads more. Hardly the forces of gender darkness, unless you are a real reactionary.’ Yet, she continued,
since the letter was posted on the Guardian website … I have been bombard[ed] by tweets … I got sixty tweets in the space of about an hour from one person alone … Last night I went to bed wanting to weep … It wasn’t the force of any remark, it was the relentless pummelling of attack on the basis of extraordinary loaded, sometimes quite wrong, readings of the letter … You can see why a lot of women (and there is a gender issue here) might choose not to put their heads above the parapet.
Peter Tatchell was also bombarded – all the more galling for him because he is a strong advocate of trans people and sex workers. Many responses, he wrote, ‘were hateful and abusive: homo, foreigner, misogynist, paedophile, nutter and so on. Others were threatening: “I would like to tweet about your murder you f*cking parasite.”’ The pioneering trans campaigner Stephen Whittle blogged: ‘I was astonished to discover that those social justice campaigners, Peter Tatchell and Mary Beard, among others, had become the latest attack of the twittering trans-sirens.’ Was this ‘vicious streak’, he wondered, the ‘death of the inclusive, tolerant trans community’? The answer seems to be yes.
Sara Ahmed, professor in race and cultural studies at Goldsmiths, is adamant: ‘There cannot be a dialogue when some at the table are in effect or intent arguing for the elimination of others at the table.’ But speaking is not the same as pointing a gun, as Whittle reminds us. Ahmed organised a group response to our Observer letter, published in the paper a week later: ‘We do not agree that freedom of speech is freedom to speak unaccountably.’ But NUS no-platforming does, precisely, prevent speaking accountably: it not only proscribes speech but students’ active participation – in hearing and, crucially, being heard.
Feminism is nothing if not a politics that problematises gender and the construction of masculinities and femininities; it is bound to get into ‘gender trouble’. Who knows whether ‘What is a woman?’ is a feminist question or a patriarchal conundrum? Transsexuals, including Kate Bornstein and Miranda Yardley, for example, have put these questions on the trans agenda.
If feminism can’t make gender trouble then it can’t talk about anything, indeed it is silenced by Ahmed’s authoritarian notion of ‘dialogue’: language loses meaning and politics is shot.
Beverley, East Riding
Vera Baird begins her rather remarkable book about her first term as Northumbria’s elected Police and Crime Commissioner with a story about rape.
That is unusual enough — policing sexual violence is rarely the priority in populist narratives about law and order.
But Baird is not the usual police commissioner.
The job was invented by the Conservatives to replace elected police authorities. Labour reluctantly participated in the 2010 election of Police and Crime Commissioners in 41 constabularies: six women were elected and 35 men, and Baird was one of them (on a slightly higher than the average low 15 per cent average turnout).
Whilst not necessarily a believer in the new system — it was a manoeuvre to further eviscerate local government — she is recognised as one of the most focused, novel and effective: an exemplar of how to be a Police Commissioner.
What she doesn’t deliver in this really useful little book is a gung ho account of crime figures going up, or down. What she does do, however, is place gendered violence at the centre of policing priorities for community law and order, peace and security.
Tyneside police were scalded by the public response to the fate of the young woman raped that night in 2013 in the midst of Newcastle’s fabled party culture.
Baird reports how a club doorman walked a very drunk teenager to a taxi after she’d been excluded from the club; she’d lost her pals, she was stranded, and she was so intoxicated that the doorman accepted the help of a man passing by.
He left her with this man without making sure that she was safe. She wasn’t. Some taxis refused to take her, the man raped her in a corner — noticed by other people out on the town that night — and then toured round the city passing her around other men until, writes Baird, ‘she finally “came to” in a car park with someone on top of her and fled to a club where a couple called the police.’
The girl’s fate and the response of the club door staff provoked outrage in the city. It changed things.
It was Newcastle’s good fortune to have vigorous feminist networks who launched a public protest and, unusually, two women heading up policing: Vera Baird and Chief Constable Sue Sim. Both understood not only the danger of sexual crime but its implications for crime and public safety generally.
Newcastle is a fabled party city; communities of razzlers and revellers are the new ‘flaneurs’ who hit the streets and lubricate the city centre’s flouring night time economy.
But that night in 2013, writes Baird, ‘the shocking persistence’ with which the men ‘had toted her around for hours appeared to forestall any victim-blaming against her and was so disturbing that it demanded a new approach to dealing with people when they are vulnerable through drink.’
Thus began a quiet revolution in community policing.
The problem began with door staff whose priority was ‘protecting a single set of premises from trouble, with no thought of what might befall the young woman once she had been removed.’
What did befall her was a night of multiple rapes. But door staff training included no reference to a duty of care to the public and ‘no training about predatory men.’
Two of perpetrators were arrested — they were identified on CCTV coverage.
However, the case pointed not only at rape culture and door staff indifference, but to the police: people had complained to officers patrolling the city that night about what was happening in that corner: sex with a helpless woman who could hardly stand or speak — and therefore could not consent to anything.
This was brushed aside after the man persuaded the police that they were a couple.
So, everything was wrong.
Baird describes how she pulled together the police, club managers, community safety staff, women’s networks and businesses to work with Tyneside Rape Crisis Centre on a safety strategy for the city.
That’s what makes her book, ‘Headlines from the First Three Years’ so salient: it is not only an account of a strategic attack on men’s violence against women, but a ‘how to’ guide to making the night time economy safer and making institutions take more responsibility.
Baird re-visits research on the lamentable response of police generally – with some honourable exceptions – to the reform of Britain’s laws on sexual assault and violence against women.
Baird, of course, drove the reform of the sexual offences legislation when she was Solicitor General in the last Labour government.
One of its most significant changes was the requirement that men secure consent for sex and that women have to be capable of giving it.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has published several reports showing that police culture has shown itself resistant to the reform of gendered crime — and that’s what makes this book so pertinent.
It is not only strong on gender – which you would expect from a feminist Police Commissioner — but on how and why gender is important to understanding perpetrators, victims — including all victims of violence — more generally, and why that enhances the administration of justice generally.
Ireland prepares to surprise itself in the 2016 election to its Dail (parliament) on 26th February — an election in which, like elsewhere in Europe, smaller parties are expected to gain votes.
Sinn Fein can no longer be described as one of the smaller parties. It expects to significantly increase its presence.
But some who wanted to make this the worst possible campaign for Sinn Fein’s leader Gerry Adams, who led his party into the peace process that ended 30 years of armed conflict in Northern Ireland.
On the English side of the Irish Sea there was a bit of bilious talk: the man was a scumbag who covered up sexual abuse by his brother Liam when he first learned of it in 1987.
It was then that his niece told him of his brother’s sexual abuse, and it was then that he discovered how his father, a well-known Republican campaigner, had abused some of his own 10 children.
More than a decade later Adams made a remarkable television announcement exposing his father and explaining the devastation wrought in his large extended family.
“I was almost 50,” he said when he learned of the abuse, “everybody was coming at this at different speeds and from different perspectives.”
He’d always wanted to go public — he was, after all, a globally iconic figure and a person allowed few private confidences.
Finally his brother Liam Adams was jailed for 16 years last year after losing an appeal against his conviction.
Gerry Adams isn’t a scumbag, and he didn’t cover it up, he tried to manage it.
What we know about child sexual abuse is that it blows families and people apart.
This side of the Irish Sea it is easy to hate the IRA and Sinn Fein — the Establishment has waged war on Republicanism, after all, forever.
You don’t have to be a Republican yourself to know that all of our engagements with its politics have to be mindful of that history, and our place in it.
Even Adams’ enemies acknowledge that he is a dignified, discreet, strategic — though, of course, imperfect — political leader who helped get his movement out of the mire into the political light.
Of course, there is dirt in his story — it was a very dirty war.
He didn’t cover up the abuse, he acknowledged it; when his niece Aine told him in 1987, he tried to manage it. He may not have managed it very well.
In England in 1987 the government launched the first and longest public inquiry into sexual abuse in Cleveland, a county in the north east of England.
We are talking about 1987, who addressed sexual abuse well?
Of course he made mistakes. However, he didn’t cover it up he tried to manage it.
What seems to have happened is that he confronted his brother; Liam was sent over the border to Dundalk — hiding place of many Republicans, where no doubt it was felt that people would keep an eye on him.
In 1987, lest we forget, how many people knew that a man who abused his own daughter would be capable of abusing other children, boys and girls?
In 1987 it was inconceivable that Adams could have gone to the police in Belfast.
Adams had already survived attempts on his life; the British were fiercely resisting an equality agenda — the MacBride Principles — initiated by human rights and feminist activists as a way through the political impasse.
The paramilitary organisations were trying to come up with a peace plan in the mid-1980s. But in 1987 the British sent Brian Nelson, an agent in the Orange/loyalist UDA to South Africa to acquire an arms cache that was then distributed among the loyalist paramilitary organisations.
The British — MI5 and the Army — re-tooled and modernised the intelligence delivered to the UDA so that it could more effectively target Republicans. We are talking about death squads.
In 1989 they killed the human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.
If you don’t believe me, check out John Ware’s Panorama programmes on Brian Nelson and the death squads and the British security services; check out British Irish Rights Watch evidence to the British and Irish governments; check out the evidence that the British security state also ran the Republicans’ own internal security system.
Check out Martin Ingram’s book Stakeknife. Stakeknife is the code name for Fred Scappaticci — more stories will be emerging this year of his terrifying role as the architect of spectacular brutality, on behalf of Britain’s security services.
That was Adams’ world. That was everybody’s world actually, a world in which no nationalist or republican could conceivably take their troubles to the police — the RUC — they just couldn’t and didn’t.
There was no hope of justice for women or children in those communities.
In Britain we aren’t in a war zone, and 90 per cent of us still don’t take our experience of rape or child sexual abuse to the police.
In Northern Ireland the police and criminal justice system was not safe for 100 per cent of women and children.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Republicans began to organise alternatives to the police and to the informal horrors of rough justice: punishment beatings. They set up restorative justice schemes and enlisted independent mediators.
But they knew — and I talked to them about this at the time — that restorative justice was not an appropriate mechanism for men’s intimate sexual oppression, abuse and domestic violence.
Femimists in the Republican movement were involved in trying to sort that stuff out. But they were all struggling in a war zone.
Since then, the narrative of republicanism and justice has been scalded by a new one: schisms within republicanism, particularly between those who supported the peace process and those who didn’t, intrudes upon the bitter bequest of abuse. Adams, inevitably got caught in that cross-fire.
An Irish friend reminds me that the absence of trust in systems of law and order during anti-colonial and civil wars is nothing new.
“It means that parallel systems of enforcing law and order emerge with typically bizarre sanctions and remedies.
“This happened between 1916 and 1922 in Ireland when Republican Courts meted out justice. This was even included in the film ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley.’
“Some people forget this historical fact and choose to think that the more recent Republican incarnations of local ‘justice’ were an outrage.
“The RUC during the troubles did not deal with domestic violence, abuse or rape cases. They would not go to houses during the Troubles. People went to Republicans to seek justice or remedy.
“The way accusations or facts of rape were dealt with within Republican environments were extra-state.
“Living in an environment were the state is illegitimate is very frightening. This is the context within which we have to think about this.”
We are not entitled to bring British piety to an Adams family tragedy.
We could, though, learn something useful from Adams’ difficulties, and his survival.
We know that child sexual abuse is dangerous. People like Gerry Adams, were trying to confront it, sort it, cope with it, trying to get it right but doomed to get it wrong.
Uniquely in Europe, Ireland is well-educated about child sexual abuse. It is a culture in which Adams, who was not the problem, could be part of the solution.
Tory grandees, former ministers and yesterday’s men queue up to denounce the police for investigating sexual abuse allegations against members of the Tory establishment.
They demand that the Metropolitan police apologise to the widow of Lord Leon Brittan for failing to inform her promptly that her late husband was no longer under investigation for the alleged rape ‘of an adult female’ — indeed some seem to want an apology for investigating in the first place.
But a review, published in February by Dorset Police Deputy Chief Constable John Vaughan, of the Met’s decision to investigate the alleged rape has deemed it ‘proportionate’ and ‘justified’.
It has described the ‘adult female’ — known as ‘Jane’ — as ‘compelling’.
There is no apology, however, to ‘Jane’ who has been traduced by politicians and press for daring to come forward to tell her story.
She says that Lord Leon Brittan raped her in London in 1967 when she was 19 years old.
Dorset’s review should embarrass the Home Affairs Select Committee that last autumn chided the Met and deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, who had prodded the Met on behalf of ‘Jane’.
Tom Watson was to be put in the stocks for writing to the Met about ‘Jane’ after the officer in charge, DCI Paul Settle, had decided in early 2014 not to interview Lord Brittan, and not to take the case any further.
Although it was widely aired that Watson had triggered re-investigation, the Home Affairs Select Committee acknowledged that the Met had already decided two weeks beforehand to review the case and to remove DCI Settle.
This is what DCI Settle told the committee:
‘Despite ‘Jane’ insisting that she’d been raped, in law she hadn’t’; The points to prove rape ‘were not there’; he was ‘not convinced that the offence is made out’; he believed that to interview such an important figure as Lord Brittan — which would have been normal practice — would be not only ‘disproportionate’ but unlawful and a ‘baseless witchhunt’.
There were other allegations against Brittan which could be compromised if it became public knowledge that he’d been investigated for the alleged rape ‘of an adult female’, he said.
But Dorset police did not agree. The investigation was ‘necessary, proportionate and fully justified despite the significant passage of time.’ It was not unlawful.
‘Jane’ the witness was ‘compelling’, she was a ‘competent witness, who displays no malice in her motivation. Her accounts of her
situation in 1967 are corroborated and it is plausible that she was moving in similar social circles to LB.’
Jane went to the police toward the end of 2012 to report that she had been raped in 1967: she had been on a blind date with Leon Brittan, he had suggested dropping by his house on the way to their evening out. There he locked the door, trapped her and raped her.
In September 2013 that DCI Paul Settle abandoned the investigation.
‘Jane’ tells her story to Exaro in 2014:
By 2015 the controversy about the Brittan investigation exploded. See my essay on the case on Andrew Neil’s This Week (starts at 1m40s):
See the ‘heated debate’ on This Week.
It was after this that, disgusted by the press and politicians who so blithely disparaged ‘Jane’, a woman contacted me.
‘Jane’ had been her flatmate in 1967. She’d been contacted by the police a couple of years earlier — ‘Jane’ had remembered her name and passed it to the police; she’d been around at the time of the rape. She was contacted through her medical records.
This is what she had to say about why she had come forward
“I just felt everybody was flooding to Leon Brittan’s defence. She doesn’t have anybody. They’re saying that things she said can’t be corroborated. That’s true insofar as it goes.”
I inferred that there was no evidence to convict, but…
They had shared a flat in 1966-7 when ‘Jane’ was a 19-year-old student, ‘She was really sweet. She looked very young; she was quite naive; we felt very protective of her.’
They belonged to a wide group of friends who’d go to the pub and parties together and they’d take ‘Jane’ with them. Men in their circle knew Leon Brittan, professionally and politically.
She recalled an occasion in the summer of 1987 after one of their parties. She arrived home at the flat and found ‘Jane’ sobbing.
‘We were quite young, she didn’t want to talk about it and we didn’t push it.’
The former flatmate was candid and clear — she was not claiming any more than her own memories of ‘Jane’ and their circle — a network that included Brittan — at the time that ‘Jane’ said she had been raped by Brittan.
“All I can say about her is that she was nice, a sweet kid. I didn’t recognise any mental health problems. I said to the police I had no reason to disbelieve her. In those days a lot of men were out to have you. She’d not have been able to defend herself.”
Furthermore, even if ‘Jane’ had talked about rape, “I would not have recommended that she spoke to the police back then women were often treated badly when they reported rape.”
The controversy about Brittan is also contaminated by a toxic public disagreement between journalists who have pursued sexual abuse allegations.
‘Jane’s’ story has been published by Exaro.
Exaro has been accused of excess and bad judgement in another case.
But Exaro is merely the arena in which ‘Jane’ has told her story. It may never have reached the evidential standards needed to mount a prosecution and it reported that ‘Jane’ understood the difficulty.
So, too, did Dorset’s Deputy Commissioner.
The review by the Deputy Chief Constable of Dorset has been received with predictable disdain by the detractors. Former Minister David Mellor has loyally defended Brittan — he had a Rolls Royce brain, said Mellor, whilst Dorset ‘a small country force is allowed to tell the Met they did a great job.’
That however, is exactly what Dorset didn’t do.
PUBLIC MAN, PRIVATE HAREM
The Conservative Party mourns the death in January 2016 of one of its great players, Cecil Parkinson. He contributed greatly to public life, to the transformation of Britain by Thatcherism, the party said this week.
His political career was, say the obituaries, ruined by a woman. What they don’t say is that a woman’s political career was ruined by Cecil Parkinson.
The woman was Sara Keays, his lover for 12 years, his secretary, companion and confidante. She was a resilient, respectable middle class woman from the fastnesses of Conservative England.
Her tragedy was to trust an ambitious Tory politician, and to vest her own political ambitions in proximity to power.
What remains unnoticed is that Cecil Parkinson not only repudiated the woman he’d loved, spent his days with, and relied on since the early 1970s and refused to acknowledge their daughter, but — unbeknown to Keays — killed off her political ambition.
He got her kicked off the Conservative Party candidates list for the Bermondsey by-election following the resignation of the Labour incumbent Bob Mellish in 1982.
The journalist Frankie Rickford once described powerful men’s promiscuous dependencies on women as being like a modern version of a harem: wives at home and surrogate wives at work.
Cecil Parkinson’s relationships with women — his wife, his secretary, his leader — were an exemplar. He was a suave lieutenant of Thatcherism, he was regarded as a beautiful performer, an adroit party manager and strategist, and he blessed those around him with charm, flirtation, political panache and promise.
But his career was serviced, and sometimes sponsored, by women.
The moralism of ‘traditional values’ that was promoted by the Thatcherites was well understood in the 1980s to be intended not for the Tory elite but for the masses.
Sara Keays is blamed for his demise in 1983. Yet Keays was no more to blame than his wife, his leader or any other woman. He was to blame. It was as if the act of putting himself inside a woman was nothing, as if the pregnancy was nothing to do with him.
His party, too, was to blame for not reading the runes of a society whose sexual culture was being shamed and enlightened, by women — more sexually tolerant and more alert to consequences.
Cecil Parkinson was a favourite of his party and above all of Margaret Thatcher. When he confessed to her on the night of the 1983 General election that he’d been having an affair with his secretary, Thatcher refused to let him go.
But pregnancy — that was another story. He hadn’t told her about that. Thatcher only learned of it from a letter written to her by Keays’ father, Colonel Hastings Keays.
The letter arrived next day and she presented to Parkinson at a lunchtime meeting. Thatcher still didn’t dump him: he was given trade rather than the Foreign Office.
Sara Keays lost him, of course, and by the autumn party conference he announced that he would remain with his wife and children. He would never speak to Keays again: she was, indeed, a woman scorned. Sara Keays had refused to go quietly to the abortion clinic and decorous obscurity.
She wanted to be recognised not as mistress, not as a phantom of collective fantasies about him, but as herself.
So, it wasn’t ‘kiss and tell’ when she produced a book, A Question of Judgement, in 1985. Certainly, she laid trails, little clues deigned not to betray him or the government but to show that she had been important enough to him to share state secrets.
She wanted her reputation, she wanted be recognised as a considerable person, as a woman who had been loved for a long time, who had been respected by Parkinson and who felt that she deserved respect in her own party.
But their relationship was the traditional personal-political contract served on women by powerful men: his social prowess, his comings and goings (while she served and waited) meant that his power was manifest whilst his dependency was covert.
The Parkinson scandal was not so much about morality: it was not unusual for Cabinet ministers to have their harems — wives at home, ‘wives’ at work; and it was not the only time the Tories were confronted by their own contradictions.
Men were assumed to be sexually incontinent. Parkinson was not expected to be responsible for his ‘private’ life — that was women’s work.
During my research in the 1980s on Iron Ladies, a book about Tory women, all the women I asked blamed her. She must have known what she was doing, they said, ‘Well, men! They don’t do they.’ said one of them, echoing all.
They grieved for their loss of Cecil, not just because the party lost his political charisma, but because their fantasises about this man had been ruined by reality. His decline and fall — like his power — was eroticised.
They longed to save this Icarus, to protect him — but from what?
She was blamed for ruining him and worse: by declining to go quietly, she had revealed the reapolitik of unequal romance which cost her reputation and her own political career.
She exposed the sexual division of labour in Conservative political culture: the illusion that proximity to power gave women power.
Sara Keays told me that she had subordinated her own political ambitions to his. She had been on the candidates list for Parliamentary elections.
‘The events of 1983 ended my career. The party refused to have anything to do with me and never gave me any reason for taking me off the candidates list.’
What Keays had not known was that before the 1983 by-election in Bermondsey, Parkinson had intervened to get her off the Tory short-list for the south London seat.
During the scandal, she said, the then party chairman John Gummer called her in for a meeting. It was all over. But they ‘never put anything in writing,’ they never explained, they never apologised.
It was clear, ‘Cecil’s position in the government could only be secured by minimising the scandal, which was done by belittling his involvement with me and concealing that he’d consistently lied to us.
‘Various Tory supporters in the media have written about him as my victim. He’s paid the price and served his sentence. It was acceptable for my career to be destroyed.’
She wondered whether, had she been a politician already, ‘my position would have been secure. But because I wasn’t, people had very little to go on — perhaps they thought I hadn’t lost anything.’
By 1985 everyone expected Parkinson to be fully rehabilitated. But the Daily Mirror published extracts from Keays book about this saga, including vignettes about the Falklands war cabinet.
‘That’s when she had the government in her power,’ commented a prominent Tory. That’s when the government knew she was dangerous.
Not because she was about to share those secrets, but to show that she knew stuff, that she’d been important to Parkinson, she was somebody.
His obituaries celebrate his charm and adroit political intelligence. They don’t recall his punitive court action banning any public reference to their daughter Flora, his reluctance to contribute financially to her care, his refusal to acknowledge her personally — never a card, a gift, a word.
Keays is still cast in the role of the woman scorned. She was, of course, scorned. But not for what she exposed about him, more for what she insisted upon disclosing about herself:
She risked shame to protect her own dignity. She was defending her honour.
But if women like Sara Keays knew that they were, and are, indispensable to men’s power, they were wrong to imagine that it would be reciprocal.
Being necessary to men always meant that power-sharing between men and women was unnecessary.
The Parliamentary debate on bombing IS/Daesh in Syria was brought to an intense and rousing conclusion by Hilary Benn, Shadow Foreign Secretary. It was Benn rather than Tory Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond who inspired the House of Commons — MPs endured Hammond and applauded Hilary Benn.
The commentariat relished the difference between Hilary Benn and the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, but also inevitably, perhaps, with his father Tony Benn.
It was as if they had not noticed Hilary Benn’s eloquent defence of his leader — as a politician and as a person — and his unrequited invitation to David Cameron to apologise for his ‘terrorist sympathiser’ slur.
And it as if they had not noticed that throughout Hilary Benn’s parliamentary life he has not been an echo of his father — that the Benn family has survived generational and individual differences with better manners than most.
Melissa Benn — the only girl among Tony and Caroline Benn’s children, an astute writer and activist — reminds us that ‘the Benns have something of a history of courteous exchange but also of opinions strongly held to and expressed. Often not exciting enough for rapacious press, looking for gossip, intrigue and networking and power plays.
She’s right: schism and ‘irreconcilable differences’ attract attention, whilst respectful, intelligent and peaceful co-existence doesn’t.
Hilary Benn is not his father.
This is not a dynastic drama; it isn’t a sectarian schism either.
Hilary Benn has always disagreed with Tony Benn and with Jeremy Corbyn about Britain’s wars.
That makes Benn’s appointment as Foreign Secretary by Corbyn a daring move; just as his appointment of Maria Eagle as shadow Defence Secretary is also interesting. They don’t agree on the war in Syria. They don’t agree on the renewal of Trident nuclear missiles.
So, they’re going to have to work it out.
The surprise is that they’re going to try. And they’re going to try in the knowledge that these issues are difficult because they are difficult, we should expect disagreement because they are among the most testing themes of our times.
Listening to the Syria debate and Benn, brought to mind not his father but Parliament itself and a sense that Benn was emancipated by the context — Parliamentary democracy at work.
I didn’t agree with him about the bombing. But Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who has brought a genial tone to the Corbyn team, lost his touch a bit when he said Benn’s speech was like Tony Blair in 2003 when he argued for war in Iraq.
No, he wasn’t.
Benn wasn’t so much charismatic as effective: the performance was adroit, supple and smart. He didn’t overwhelm the honourable members with evangelism, he didn’t deceive or bully. He invited them to think, and to be available for persuasion. That’s what made his speech bracing.
Unlike, for example, David Cameron who de-humanised the enemy, Benn discussed some particulars — acts of violence animated by a special kind of manly excitement; an enemy that electrified by violence that is also thought-about and strategic: aimed not only at destruction but the theatre of terror.
That’s what made his allusion to fascism so interesting. Who knows if he’s right, but the word takes us to other modern — not medieval — ideologies of supremacist violence: the Nazis, Mussolini’s nationalism, racist lynching in the United States.
If he soared on this occasion it was because the occasion — the place, the time, the people — demanded it: here was Parliamentary debate at its best, and here was Hilary Benn doing his best.
Weirdly, the commentariat responded not by thinking, but by boxing the speech into its own discourses about power and politics. They’re missing the point: this isn’t about splits (whatever the ‘traitor’ twitters outside Parliament get up to).
Isn’t disagreement and debate what happens in political parties, in relationships, in families?
Westminster’s political culture isn’t used to this — witness the utter bewilderment about Scotland’s great independence conversation: households, friends, lovers dissented from each other — but they didn’t get divorced or die. They kept talking.
This is good politics, and Westminster and the commentariat should get used to it.
What we witnessed during the Syria debate was a party that was functioning; recovering from near death, from being eviscerated, hollowed out; from being ruled by diktat, by people whose anti-party politicking left Labourism too terrified to do what it is supposed to do: think, look right, look left, look right again and then go.
Former Daily Mirror editor, and unrequited lover of US television, Piers Morgan, is settling into ITV’s breakfast slot. Expect more of the eloquent bile he offered in response to Andrew Neil’s celebrated rant on This Week, in the aftermath of the Paris massacres.
Morgan admired Neil’s rant. It chimed with the country’s ‘blind fury’.
Neil had addressed himself directly to the ISIS attackers: you, he said, ’loser jihadis’, he said, ‘Islamist scumbags’.
Followed by an itinerary of the glories of France, its food and drink, its enlightenment.
‘You’ won’t win, he warned the Islamicists, ‘you’ will be dust in a thousand years when Paris will still be lighting the world. Or some such.
But Morgan’s celebration of ‘blind fury’ is exactly that: blind.
‘Scumbag’ and ‘loser’ don’t describe Islamicist adversaries; they don’t throw light on the motives and modus operandi of ISIS, still less on how to respond to an enemy that lives not in a far off land but the sea in which we all swim. They’re just the lexicon of flagrant virtue.
Andrew Neil is paid a lot of money to create contexts in which pundits can think and share their thoughts. But that’s exactly what he didn’t do. He didn’t do thinking.
Rubbishing IS is as easy as raging against the Yorkshire Ripper or Hitler.
The Paris massacres were an opportunity to indulge in the joy of denigration and contempt, rather than the effort of the enlightenment he hails in his paean to Paris.
I was in France the weekend of the massacre, and here I am in England where we are all contemplating the implications. The mood in both countries isn’t ‘blind fury’, it is shock, fright, grave sadness.
While the mass media mocks opposition to the renewal of Britain’s Trident, it appears not to note:
This is the moment to wake up, not collapse into the comforts of blind fury.
When Peter Stringfellow tells you that you are a ‘lovely lady’ you know that your are either in the wrong job, or the wrong conversation — or you are winning the argument.
We were debating on Sky News the decision by Playboy magazine to abandon nudes in its Spring 2016 revamp.
Stringfellow, the ‘sex entertainment’ entrepreneur, insisted that Playboy is merely modernising, moving to the internet where easy access to virtual sex and women is a most prolific and profitable form of traffic.
But Stringfellow and other commentators are missing something more interesting: We are in midst of a cultural revolution.
Whilst on one flank, what the femininist scholar Maddy Coy calls sexualised sexism flourishes on the web, on another flank it is severely challenged by feminist campaigns against lad mags and The Sun’s Page 3, and by men themselves.
Lad mag circulations have been diving, several have closed, and the publishers’ own research reveals that there is more to this than men switching from print to the web.
Among millions of men, it seems, their taste for sexism has faded.
Stringfellow and friends may hate to admit it — and the porn traffic in on the web may contra-indicate — but the readers confirm that the debate about sexual objectification of women isn’t just a joust between men and women it is an argument between men.
When Playboy, the daddy of them all, announced in September 2015 that there would no nude women in its re-launch in the Spring of 2016, we know now, if we did not know before, that we are indeed in the midst of a cultural revolution.
A Playboy editor Cory Jones had consulted the market research and bravely confronted its founder Hugh Heffner with his conclusion: the nudes had to go. It was a mix of profit motive and politics; the research showed not only that men could, by the flick of a finger, access any amount of nudity and virtual sex.
Playboy’s survival as a magazine depends on moving online. Most of its income is generated by the logo — a bunny to brand handbags and sportswear.
But if the magazine that gave birth to that bunny in 1953 is to staunch terminal decline it has make some accommodation with social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and that means putting clothes on.
Social media are not sexism-free spaces — but they are sites where it is contested, and they are sites inhabited by women and men.
In August 2014 Playboy’s website dispensed with nudity: the average age of its readers dropped from 47 to just over 30, and its web traffic jumped to about 16 million from about four million unique users per month.
In Britain, the lad mags that proliferated in the 1990s — when it was so right on to be right off — had already peaked by the end of the decade. Less than 20 years after they arrived in the shops, three of the biggest-sellers, Loaded, Maxim and Nuts had been closed.
Holly Baxter, Vagenda co-founder, reckons that it isn’t only online porn that’s wounded the lad mags, nor the successful campaigns to persuade retailers — markedly the Co-op — to get lad mags off the shelves.
“Loaded, Maxim and Nuts — all closed down — because they ‘represent an ideology which has become markedly unpopular. “Laddishness” is dying out; the whole concept has become desperately uncool. Even mainstream online porn has been shifting to focus on shared pleasure rather than straightforward female objectification.”
Over optimistic I fear. In 2015 Esquire editor Alex Bilmes got himself into bother with his nearest and dearest and women in general for insisting that Esquire used women for ornamental purposes.
After his ‘ornamental’ comment made at a media conference made him a bit notorious, he explained: He puts women in the magazine because they are interesting, have cultural currency, and they’re hot.
“But most of all, we wonder: is she hot? Will our readers agree that she’s hot? Ornamental, see? “
He admits though that Lena Dunham, New York creator of the hit HBO series Girls, “is a brilliant, brazen, necessary corrective to that.” He’d want to watch her show, but not see her on his mag’s cover.
“It’s not my job to provide positive role models for young women, or to challenge the homogeneity of representations of young women in the media. I’m a men’s magazine editor. I supply entertainment for men. “
But the Playboy decision also shows that she is on to something — men who like sexualised sexism have somewhere else to go; and men who don’t are doing something about their distaste: they’re just not buying it.
Unlike lad mags, Men’s Health and Shortlist — men’s mags that don’t do sexualised sexism —aren’t in decline.
Former Nuts editor, Phil Hilton, was invited to join the launch of Shortlist in 2007. Up to then, he’d been “locked in a ferocious newsstand battle for three years in which the biggest single factor in winning readers was women, without clothes, on the cover, every week.”
Now, the notion of a free mag felt liberating: if the publisher didn’t have to worry about men buying it, they could change the content, they could even put men on the cover. In his launch diary, he wrote that they could:
“Produce a title that appeals to the best instincts of all those prosperous grown-ups who don’t even browse the newsstand anymore. I’m excited.”
Stuff, a gadget magazine for young men, always had women on its covers. Now it is concentrating on what the magazine is really about, gadgets. This followed the magazine’s research into readers’ responses to ‘girl’ and ‘non-girl’ covers. For several months last year the publisher put non-girl covers into four regions: sales were higher than girl covers.
Rachael Prasher, Stuff publishing director, said the decision by the owner, Haymarket Media Group, to go non-girl “is based on what our audience have told us through focus groups and cover trials, there is no question that it feels like the right decision to make.”
Stuff editor in chief, Will Findlater, adds that their market research showed that if using women to sell gadgets once worked — did it? — it doesn’t now: Stuff readers are “united by their passion for technology — and nothing else.”
So, Stringfellow and his comrades think they have their finger on the pulse of men. But they haven’t registered the zeitgeist: that feminist pressure on the Murdoch empire and the retailers, No More Page 3 and Lose the Lads Mags have had an impact.
And the publishers’ own research on their readers tells them that its not just women who don’t like sexualised sexism, its men, too: this isn’t just an historic debate between women and men but between men, about women and what it means to be a man.
Earlier than usual — maybe 7.30 am — the BBC rang: What did I think about the woman who’d gone to the police over a wolf-whistle from a building site? Should she have gone to the police?
The incident had not crossed my radar. But in any case I found myself in a generational fade: Going to the police, a wolf-whistle…?
Unsure how to think about it; there had to be more to this story but I didn’t know what it was, and pointed the caller in the direction of Everyday Sexism who, to be sure, would know how to think about it.
The Daily Mirror’s version on 29 April was this: ‘Builder quizzed by police over wolf-whistle says he was complimenting ‘silly little girl thinking things above her station’
The paper asked its readers whether they agreed with the action taken by digital marketing director Poppy Smart: Would you go to the police over a wolf-whistle? 8 per cent said YES, 92 per cent NO.
If I didn’t know what to think beforehand, now I do know: Poppy Smart did not complain to the police about a wolf-whistle. She contacted the police and the site contractor about her daily encounter en route to work with a group of men she didn’t know; they didn’t know her either but they presumed to show her what they thought of her in a daily performance of what in any other context would be interpreted as sexual harassment, intrusion and insult.
She didn’t just contact the police, she contacted the site contractor after deciding that this sexism was similar to racism, she shouldn’t have to put up with it.
European directives on sexual harassment are clear: It is behaviour that is unwanted, that is designed to violate the dignity of a person, that creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Employers are expected to ensure that their workers do not engage in such behaviour.
Poppy Smart’s story is illuminating both because she challenged behaviour that many men tenaciously affirm as, variously, banter, a joke, a compliment irrespective of what women might feel, behaviour that is deemed weightless yet worth defending to the bitter end, and also because her complaint prompted the police and the building company to actually do something.
One of the perpetrators, a 23-year-old Ian Merrett, protested in his old-fashioned chivalrous way that wolf-whistling was a compliment, he’d done it many times and ‘snogged so many girls off the back of that’ .
Poppy Smart ‘must be thinking things above her station,’ he said. Thinking things? Station? Two crimes: Thinking and trespassing. Here was a woman who seemed to think that she could occupy terrain — her own body — as if she owned it; that she could exercise both freedom of movement and freedom of thought as if she wasn’t living in Saudia Arabia.
Merrett had form. He told the press that in the past he’d get ‘pissed up and fighting’; he’d received a 12-month jail sentence when he and a dozen or so pals provoked a fight on a Worcester-Birmingham train in 2009.
His friend had ‘indecently exposed’ himself to other passengers after he accused one of them of looking at him. Merrett punched another passenger, who received stitches to his face.
But he was a reformed character, he said, he was only doing what men on building sites do.
The Daily Mirror conducted a poll among its readers on 1st May: 92 per cent supported the men and 8 per cent the woman.
However, police showed the men Poppy Smart’s video of their behaviour, ‘so we stopped doing it.’
She achieved something rather remarkable (despite the mass media’s trivialisation): she showed men dedicated to sexual harassment what it looks like and made them stop it.
Poppy Smart also offered us her own version of events: read it, be sad; be inspired.