Could the Alternative Vote help make Parliament sovereign again?

Sexism! That seems to be the biggest annoyance people have with David Cameron for telling Labour MP Angela Eagle to ‘calm down, dear.’ The blogosphere (well, the Guardian online, anyway) has exploded with accusations, feminist rants, anti-feminist rants, and totally indiscriminate rants.

I don’t say this often, but well done Cameron: lo and behold, the material points (which were: the rather important business of the government’s controversial Health and Social Care Bill, and the fact that David Cameron was stating a falsehood to the House. Let’s be generous and assume he was wrong, rather than deliberately lying to the House), seem to have been all but forgotten.

David Cameron’s motivation for his patronising attitude towards Angela Eagle – whether sexism, snobbery, or just plain old-fashioned arrogance – isn’t really the crux of the issue. What matters more is that we have a Prime Minister who stated a falsehood in Parliament (the falsehood, not that it particularly matters, was that Howard Stoat MP lost his seat to a Conservative, when in actual fact, Mr Stoat retired), to back up a point he was making on a deadly serious issue (reforming the NHS), yet when he was called to account by an opposition MP – whose job it is to hold the government to account – rather than apologise for his probably quite innocent mistake, our Prime Minister chose to quote a rather annoying television ad, and rudely dismiss the Member of Parliament who corrected him.

We perhaps shouldn’t be surprised at David Cameron’s patronising reaction to Angela Eagle’s heckling. After all, the very bill under discussion in itself ignores the criticisms of all sorts of experts, including the British Medical Association, 96% of nurses, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, conservative-minded think tanks like Civitas and Policy Exchange, the majority of GPs, including Dr Sarah Woollaston who is a Conservative party MP, and a rather sizeable chunk of the public. It doesn’t actually matter very much to me whether he thinks he’s above listening to Angela Eagle because she happens to be a woman, because she’s a Labour party member, because she is a blonde, or because he didn’t like the shirt she was wearing. What matters a whole lot more to me is that our Prime Minister has such a shamelessly disdainful attitude to facts and – crucially – other people’s informed opinions. Did it not occur to Cameron to say something like: “Oh, I was under the impression Mr Howard Stoat had been defeated. My mistake. The point I was making, however, was… ” and proceed to discuss the important the business of running the country and our public services; the work he is paid £142,500 every year of our money to do? Anyone would think David Cameron felt that getting a cheap (and probably forced) laugh was more important than accurately explaining and debating his policies with our democratic representatives.

David Cameron is hardly the first PM ever to show distain for Parliament. In fact I doubt we’ve ever had one who didn’t. Winston Churchill was always doing it. (He called women much worse than ‘dear,’ too.) And it’s certainly not a partisan issue: Tony Blair was always pummeling his way through parliament no matter the wishes of his own backbenchers – and, more importantly, their constituents. But at least Tony Blair did have a fairly indisputable democratic mandate from the electorate: let’s be honest, most of those unhappy backbench Labour MPs were winning seats between 1997 and 2005 that they almost certainly never could have won without Blair’s immense popularity, centrist vision, and electability.

But the presidential leadership style that Blair always embraced comes off as plain insidious arrogance when David Cameron does it. Why? Because he doesn’t have anything like the same democratic mandate that Blair enjoyed. David Cameron seems to have forgotten that he is only entitled to form a government in the first place thanks to those Liberal Democrat MPs his party and supporters mocked so disdainfully during the 2010 general election campaign, who are graciously doing him an enormous favour – often at the expense of their own careers – and supporting his unpopular minority government. His personal approval rating is only a grapple and grasp above where Gordon Brown’s was for the bulk of his premiership. He has absolutely no right – even less than Blair or Brown had – to be disdainful of Parliament. And yet he can. Because once you form an executive, that’s it: all power to your elbow. So here’s my question: could a change in our electoral system help shift that balance of power back towards Parliamentary sovereignty?

Although it is clearly driven by naked self-interest – and I mean the butt-naked, shivering in a rainy street when your girlfriend has chucked all your clothes out of the window kind of naked – that the Lib Dems are making more fuss about electoral reform than any other policy pledge of theirs, the issue isn’t an entirely trivial one, and shouldn’t be seen as something that is to the sole advantage of Nick Clegg.

I personally think we should do a couple of other things too, that the Lib Dems might not be too keen on. For example, since so many Prime Ministers insist on acting like we have a presidential system, why not actually just have one? Perhaps it would help remind everyone of their place if we elected the government separately from the House of Commons. And perhaps we could elect a proper second chamber as well while we’re at it. It is a nonsensical, antiquated notion that the Queen just automatically appoints whoever has the most MPs willing to vote with them in Parliament. Why should a minority government like David Cameron’s have their votes sewn up in Parliament on key issues before they have even officially tabled any bills? We should choose the individual we’d like to run the country – then choose who we’d like to hold him or her to account. I happen to look for rather different qualities in a local representative, or indeed in a legislative body, than I do in the person and/or party I’d like to run the country, represent Britain abroad, make decisions about national security, appoint a cabinet, set a budget, and so on.

Somehow I don’t see any of this happening in the near future, given that we’re not even allowed a chance to vote on Proportional Representation. Consider it: in a referendum about electoral reform, for goodness sake, the most popular alternative method of voting isn’t being given to us as an option. And the No campaign have the cheek to call AV undemocratic!

AV isn’t perfect. But if we all turn up our noses at AV and vote No, well, this is pretty much what we’re stuck with until the Lib Dems are next in government. George Osborne has said so: if the country votes No on May 5th it will “close the question of electoral reform for the foreseeable future,” as he told the Daily Mail. No-one is pretending AV is the best system in the world: it’s not proportional, it’s not infallible, and it’s not even the first choice of its own supporters. But First Past the Post is designed for a two-party system, and it is – by admission of its own advocates – designed to facilitate a strong executive body. By making MPs gain a greater number of votes to win seats, by forcing them to consider the ‘second choice voters’ instead of concentrating on their own political comfort zone, by forcing the electorate to consider the full field of candidates, and forcing MPs to take their consideration into consideration (my apologies), we can perhaps do something small, but significant: we make general elections a little bit less about choosing who we’d like to form a government, and a little bit more about choosing who we’d like to hold that government to account. We could actually make Parliament sovereign again – and in doing so, we can remind our leaders who they all bloody well work for.


IN THE DOCK: Chris Huhne

Watching Yes to AV and No to AV ‘debate’ the merits of the Alternative Vote has been like watching a competition to see who can patronise the electorate the most. Pictures of newborn babies without a cardiac facility! Claims that the Alternative Vote will help the BNP! Exaggerations by the NO campaign are comparable to Nazi propaganda!

If cardiac units in maternity wards are the first thing to spring to mind when you’re thinking about where to make savings, we have a much larger problem than whether we can afford electoral reform or not. And Baroness Warsi isn’t my favourite friend, but Goebbels? Seriously? But my favourite patronising argument so far is being told “if you like Nick Clegg then vote Yes to AV” by Louise Bagshawe on Have I Got News for You. Do the Conservatives really think they are particularly popular right now? Liberal Democrat voters are betrayed by the Nick Clegg, and obviously they don’t feel betrayed by David Cameron, so the public expressions of outrage are different. But that doesn’t mean they are going to side with the Conservatives against the Liberal Democrats! Remember: voting No to AV is not so much a kick to Nick Clegg as it is an enormous gift to David Cameron. Is the Yes campaign really confident enough in Cameron’s job approval right now to make the debate this personal? Why would anyone be annoyed at Nick Clegg, but not at David Cameron?

Either way, our politicians need to consider that perhaps all this name-calling and armpit-scratching (whilst telling us all that we’re much too dumb to understand electoral reform) is why so many people are saying they won’t bother to walk the five minutes to their local polling station to tick one box or another. In a recent poll by independent polling company mass1 (published by Unite), the British people named money worries, cuts to NHS and council services, and rising cost of living as their top three concerns, with coalition government coming eighth and immigration coming tenth. Electoral reform did not feature as a top concern.

So regardless of how genuine or otherwise their intentions about reforming our system, from a strictly public relations perspective, why can’t the Liberal Democrats see how this looks? By choosing to make a big stink about electoral reform rather than, say, housing (the sixth biggest concern for Brits), surely they risk looking rather more concerned with their own parliamentary circle jerks than they are in actually running the country?

But it’s not just Chris Huhne’s choice of issue that could be seen as a potential misjudgement. His method of retaliation seems inappropriate, too.

I mean, if you threatened your colleague – let alone your boss – with legal action, would you really show up on Monday morning with a smile and a cup of coffee? And if you threatened legal action over something which is, truth be told, common practice in your line of work (apologies to anyone who thinks that exaggerating, manipulating figures and frightening people isn’t commonplace in politics, but… ), how would that be seen in your workplace?

Chris Huhne’s decision to threaten legal action over ‘lies’ does more than highlight cracks in coalition relations. Taking people to court is what the local councils do to Michael Gove; what BPAS do to the Department of Health. It’s what foster care hopefuls do to their local council and it’s what celebrities do when their phone is hacked by News International. It’s not what cabinet colleagues, responsible for actually making the laws of the land themselves, supposedly bound by collective ministerial responsibility, do to each other when they think they’ve been politically mistreated.

It’s not that I’m a fan of all the backbiting and lying and slithering around that goes on in politics. It’s just that the Lib Dems seem to be stamping their feet and telling daddy that Sayeeda made up a lie, rather than correcting any misinformation through grown-up debate. Okay, they’re not doing that, exactly: but that’s how it looks to much of the electorate.

Chris Huhne thinks he’s making himself look like a strong leader, not afraid to challenge the Tories on an issue of national importance. But to an awful lot of people, he’s making himself look like a child in an adult’s job; someone who feels safer outside of the establishment than as part of it; someone who is taking legal action over a technicality arising during a debate about an issue that they don’t much care about in the first place. And Chris Huhne really needs to decide if that’s how he wants his party to appear. Because if the antagonistic tactics perpetuated by both sides of the AV campaign precipitate an early general election as some are predicting, the Lib Dems’ current poll ratings coupled with their lack of money suggests they might well be back on the outside of the establishment looking in again if they’re not careful – and for quite a long time, as well.

Sympathy and the Devil: the emotional hypocrisy of conservatism

David Cameron “feels sick” when he thinks of prisoners voting. He backs the First Past the Post system because he “just knows AV is wrong in his gut”. Meanwhile Nick Clegg is blubbing away to a string quartet and pointing out that he is a “human being with feelings.” So why are the politically conservative so quick to tell everyone else they need to toughen up?

It’s a well-known joke that if you’re not a progressive when you’re young, you have no heart, and if you’re still a progressive when you get older you have no head. In other words, leftist politics are sentimental, emotional, perfectly nice in theory but unworkable in the ‘real world’, whilst conservative politics are mature, evidence-based, logical and workable. Well, I was a conservative when I was seventeen, but the more I see of the ‘real world,’ the more I seem to become what is called (by everyone except the actual left, who ironically seem to think I’m rather Blue) ‘left-wing.’

As politicians from all the centrist and right of centre parties demonstrate brilliantly, conservatism can be based on a purely emotional response to the world just like anything else. In fact, it’s difficult to find much support for most right-wing policies without emotions like fear, pride, patriotism, and greed – none of which have a particularly logical basis.

For example, David Cameron admitted this week – in fact, declared with some pride – that he doesn’t want discussions about the Alternative Vote (AV) to be based on “scientific argument.”

“For me,” he says, “politics is about what you feel in your gut.” He goes on to say: “I just feel it, in my gut, that AV is wrong.” John Reid, meanwhile, defends First Past the Post on grounds of ‘British’ and ‘traditional.’

It’s a very funny argument: we can’t change things because then things would change. But despite it’s circular vacuity, this argument has been used to great effect by social and political conservatives for just about as long as we have historical records to show it.

What makes the appeal to ‘tradition’ even funnier is that David Cameron’s government is pretending to care about British tradition while dramatically overhauling the political geography of our constituencies (to the overwhelming advantage of his own party) and – worse – dismantling the traditions the British people really do care actually about, like local libraries, and the NHS.

But David Cameron shouldn’t be singled out: it’s not that he, or even the Conservative party, are the only ones to do this kind of thing. The reason he gets special mention is that he’s extraordinarily bad at it. Most people weren’t fooled by Tony Blair’s constant emotional points about how bad Saddam Hussein was when explaining the specifics why he lied (or ‘was mistaken’ if we want to be kind) about WMD, or whether the war was legal or not, but at least he knew how to make his arguments sound like they had some vague logical basis. Cameron’s patronising arguments like his certainty that, for example, his immigration policy is right for the country because a black man in Plymouth happened to agree with it, are just painful. And worrying – because while Blair must know he’s being manipulative, there is a chance Cameron actually believes that “just knowing” something is grounds for making it law.

But it’s not just the political right who play the emotional card: I’d be crazy to argue that. So why single out the right as hypocrites? The big, glaring difference between an emotional conservative and an emotional progressive is that progressives tend to get emotional about other people’s suffering.

Emotional conservatives, on the other hand, somehow manage to get extremely offended, upset, and angry, whilst telling everyone else to toughen up and stop whining. Every day the papers, radio phone-ins, and often general conversations are chock full of stories about homophobes who don’t like to see gay couples kissing, racists who don’t like seeing Mosques or people in burqas nearby, Christians who don’t like seeing Richard Dawkins’ book in the window and don’t want their children taught not to pick on gay kids in classroom, all complaining that they are being expected to tiptoe around other people’s sensitivities – whilst ironically expecting everyone else to tiptoe around their sensitivities.

So why do we have this idea that being progressive makes you emotional and immature, while being a conservative makes you a rational grown-up?

Perhaps it’s because we don’t distinguish enough between emotion, and compassion. We don’t always realise that an emotional response to the world founded on a lack of empathy (“Why should I pay taxes for someone else to just sit at home claiming benefits?” or “I get depressed sometimes but I just get on with it, so I don’t reckon depression is a real illness,” for example) is an irrational, emotional response, because it’s so cold and dispassionate, whilst empathy, on the other hand, can actually facilitate logic. (“I work hard but I know people who are just as human as I am who don’t, so it isn’t a logical conclusion that I automatically deserve more than people who aren’t working,” or “I want there to be a safety net in place in case I or someone I love needs it because I can imagine how it must feel to lose your home or not be able to afford healthcare for your child,” for example is an extremely rational response.) Sometimes it seems we are all so frightened of the vulnerability and humility that empathy brings that we actually don’t care about how emotional an argument is: just as long as the argument isn’t founded in compassion.

Somehow, we have allowed society to equate intelligence with selfishness; empathy with weakness; intolerance with moral values. Greed becomes proud achievement; vulnerability becomes grounds for dehumanisation.

No matter how much conservatives want us to believe in that old joke, the battle between conservatives and progressives isn’t between the emotional progressive and the rational conservative at all. It is between the emotional conservative and the compassionate progressive. And surely while basing an entire world view on emotion alone is a sign of immaturity, basing your world view on compassion is a sign of maturity and experience.

So perhaps that quote should be: “If you’re not a conservative when you’re young, you probably haven’t lived. And if you’re not a progressive when you get older, you probably haven’t lived either.”

Why the John Snow in Soho ‘kiss-in’ protest makes me nervous

Mass protest based on ‘accusation only’ is a dangerous slope to teeter around. It isn’t worth it.

Jonathan Williams and James Bull have received massive public support since tweeting that they were thrown out of the John Snow pub in Soho for a ‘peck on the lips,’ which they see as being motivated by the landlord’s homophobia. As a result, everyone from Ken Livingstone to the Guardian newspaper have joined in support of the 750-strong ‘kiss-in’ protest staged just outside the pub, and causing it to close.

Whenever gay couples are expected to tiptoe around other people’s sensitivities (to put it politely) I feel slightly queasy inside, and extremely annoyed, and if Bull and Williams’ ejection from the John Snow pub is found by the police (who are investigating) to indeed be for homophobic reasons, they have every right to take it further.

So I respect Peter Tatchell (who I usually admire and agree with) for stating that he will support any legal action James Bull and Jonathan Williams want to take, but first, we need to see some evidence that this was a homophobic incident, and Mr Tatchell is wrong to argue that it is down to the John Snow pub to prove its innocence, by demonstrating that it also removes heterosexual couples for kissing on the premises. The burden of proof, as always, needs to lie with the person making the accusation, not the accused.

The legal system has worked this way for centuries, and ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is supposed to be, at least in theory, a valued legal centerpiece of British justice. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, and live blogging from the Guardian on story updates (no, really), it becomes more imperative than ever that we don’t start marching on to someone’s property until we know for certain that they have done what they’re accused of, no matter how likely it is that they definitely have. And if we can’t be trusted to wait for official proof of guilt, determined by civilised legal channels, before we start seeing if people float or drown, perhaps it’s time that we go a step further, and stop publishing people’s names altogether until they are actually convicted of a crime.

Look at the treatment of people like poor Chris Jefferies, accused of murdering Jo Yates and having his picture, personal life, and, weirdly, his taste in poetry gossiped about by papers all around the country with sinister insinuations peppered all over the place, only to be dropped as a suspect almost immediately. And worse: look at the demonisation of people like Moazzam Begg and Binyam Mohammed in the media, with columnists like Richard Littlejohn defending the torture of the latter and implying that he is a terrorist, despite having never been convicted of a single crime.

I doubt very much that the landlord of the John Snow in Soho will be subjected to any such treatment but surely the principle remains the same. There is no evidence, there is only accusation and perception, so we must wait for impartial proof before we subject him to anything.

It shouldn’t, after all, be too difficult to prove homophobic discrimination? Surely James Bull and Jonathan Williams need only explain why they are so sure their ejection from the pub was an act of homophobia, and not merely the pub owner being a little old-fashioned and not wanting anyone to kiss on his premises? (Weird way to run a pub, perhaps, but it’s luckily not illegal to be weird.) Witness accounts of other straight couples being allowed to kiss would be enough. There must be a reason why they felt it to be a homophobic act? Can’t they just explain how they’ve seen straight couples being treated in the pub? But, curiously, no-one seems to have seen any straight couples being allowed to kiss either. Mr Williams merely states: “Show me a straight couple who have been removed.” But why should it fall to Thomas Paget (the landlord) to prove his innocence? Surely it is for his accusers to prove his guilt? If they can’t do that, I’m certainly not keen on the idea of a mass protest, based on what is merely one person’s interpretation of a situation. Nor am I keen on his name being in the paper.

Don’t misunderstand me: if Jonathan Williams and James Bull prove that the John Snow pub was homophobic in its policy (which may well be the case), then good luck to them in the courts, and a kiss-in protest is a brilliant, moving idea. But perhaps it would have been worth waiting until we know exactly what happened, and what Thomas Paget’s motive was, for certain? Otherwise we run the risk of becoming a liberal equivalent of those groups who got angry about England shirts being banned from buses and pubs, based on a story about someone being thrown off a bus for disruptive behaviour and a minor police suggestion about some recommended clothing during football games. Just as that story made the thin-skinned xenophobes looking for a slight against Britain look rather idiotic, similarly, a huge protest about an incident which turns out to be an innocent misunderstanding will do nothing to fight homophobia.

Has racism left the building? Guest blog by Janine Griffiths

As David Cameron gives a speech blaming immigration for everything from the economic crisis to the destruction of society as we know it, journalist Janine Griffiths asks: has institutional racism died? Or has it simply become more covert? Have we created a new kind of racism, which does not use openly racist language (yet) but instead uses ‘code words’ and appeals to populistic sentiments in order to rally up resentment against those perceived to be causing problems in modern Britain?

One of the great things about Britain are its core values tolerance, fairness, freedom and equality. People from all over the world visit the UK, seek refuge in our country and contribute to our culture and economy in a way which has enriched it immeasurably over the last few generations. It is little wonder that Britain has gained a reputation for being one of the most welcoming and tolerant countries in Europe.

As a country, the UK has taken great steps forward in addressing the problems of racial inequality and the overt hatred that has existed over the last few decades, with the creation of bodies like the Commission for Racial Equality and the introduction of the Equality Act 2010; the implementation of the Macphearson Report and the creation of the Black Police Officers Association, and more.

So institutional racism is now basically dead. Right?

Wrong. As the recent appointment of the first BNP mayor in Lancashire shows, we still have a long way to go.

Many supporters of the BNP argue that the party is no longer racist. Some mainstream media outlets even describe the BNP as an ‘anti-immigration’ party.

But you only have to glance at the BNP’s own 2001 general election manifesto to see that they want “native Britons” (who they claim can only be white) to be given priority in the job market, housing, and elsewhere. “Non-whites” would instantly become second class citizens in Britain. Under a BNP government any black person who commits a crime would also be thrown out of the country, even those who were born here. Mixed race relationships would be outlawed.

Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP party who once joked that black people ‘walked like monkeys’, claims that the party is no longer racist and is inclusive of minority groups.

An example of their new, non-racist agenda? The BNP dropped its policy of compulsory repatriation and replaced it with a voluntary scheme. And even then, they themselves claim that a BNP-led government would consider forcible repatriation if not enough “non-whites” took up its offer

So it cannot be stressed enough that the BNP is exhibiting the same old bone-chilling hatred delivered with a smile. Luckily, most people know the BNP are racist. Perhaps we should be more worried about this: they aren’t the only ones. The first comments that tend to crop up after any news story about a non-white person being on the receiving end of physical abuse or institutional racism is often to highlight ‘reverse racism’ (as if a black person assaulting a white person makes up for a white person assaulting a black person), or to drag the topic back to people’s ‘concerns about immigration.’

Yes, I can understand why people have concerns about immigration. I can’t, however, understand why concerns about jobs and housing shortages (which is what ‘concerns about immigration’ usually boil down to) are relevant to discussions about racism, or why an argument about who ‘started it’ is relevant when talking about individual cases. Why should these things even be relevant to specific instances of racism at all?

One quick glance at most of the right-wing newspapers such as the Daily Mail, Daily Express or Daily Telegraph will tell you that there are no shortage of negative stories about Muslims, particularly if you can stomach the comments below the line. Being Muslim is the new ‘Black’ today. The amount of stereotyping, misrepresentation and general vitriol directed against Islam and those who live by it is truly shocking.

Take the constant, repeated, often unquestioned insinuations (in this country but even more so in the United States) that terrorism is to be equated with, and somehow unique to Islam. Terror tactics are confined to a tiny minority of fanatical Muslims but it is not confined to Muslims only. The IRA being just one other example. The KKK, Westboro Baptist Church, and the Crusades being others. And, quite frankly, some would argue, George W Bush being a fifth.

I’ve actually heard it said that all Muslims must secretly support terrorist atrocities. Take it from me, I’m friends with a lot of Muslims. They don’t like being equated with murders anymore than you or I would.

And this brings us back to immigration. As a country, the UK has the most draconian immigration laws out of all the EU countries. Less than 3 per cent of the world’s migrants live in Britain. Most tend to be professionals and managers – and this has been the case for three decades. Immigrants are more likely than those born in Britain to be graduates.

Even refugees, often thought of as a burden, are more highly skilled than the population of Britain on average. The vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees from African and Asian countries choose to reside in foreign countries on those continents anyway.

Clearly, immigrants are not the burden they are made out to be in David Cameron’s speech. However, they do make nice scapegoats, particularly when there is widespread discontent and instability over jobs and the economy. If that anger can instead be turned to immigrants instead of politicians and bankers, then the mainstream media will capitalise on that and continue to highlight the minority of cases where immigrants or asylum seekers do commit crimes and fail to get deported.

Whenever I hear a politician speak out in defence of far-right sentiments in a futile bid to steal away voters of far-right parties all I hear is double-talk, double-think, acrobatics, and semantics. The word ‘immigrants’, is often used as a code word for ‘minorities’. Crimes committed by the minority of people in those minority groups thus receive more attention, creating a volatile situation where racist groups like the BNP and EDL gain more headway.

Complaining about ‘political correctness’ is another way people seem to have adopted a ‘code-word’ for expressing racist sentiment. We as a nation are ‘tip-toeing’ around minorities. Stories in the press often appear for example, of councils taking such actions like, banning Christmas lights as it may offend Muslims, who don’t celebrate Christmas. Now I don’t know of any Muslim that has ever been offended at the idea of someone celebrating Christmas. But if the council has taken it upon itself to appease terrorists or fanatics without consulting anybody, then the moderate Muslim majority can hardly be blamed for that can they? I’m also more than a little curious to know why such a draconian action allegedly taken by some council’s in the UK would only be associated with Muslims for example, and not atheists who presumably don’t celebrate Christmas either.

But usually the argument escalates into how ridiculous it is when someone gets fired over using the ‘n’ word or reprimanded after telling an Asian bus driver to go home. The bottom line is some people want the right to be offensive: as long as they are not the ones being offended, of course: these advocates of minorities just shutting up and putting up never seems to extent to them when a decent member of society fails to appreciate their racism, or complains about it. As long as we have these kind of double standards in the UK, then the popularity of extremist groups from any racial background will only continue to grow, leading to greater instability and disharmony for everyone.

‘I’m not a rapist, but…’ and the Infantilisation of Men

It must be extremely unpleasant at times, being a male homo sapien who isn’t a complete moron. Even members of your own sex are amazed, sometimes furious, even violent towards you, because you have other interests besides sex, eating, violence and urinating. Women are used to being patronised by sexists, but spare a thought for the scores and scores of wonderful men who have to watch other, idiotic men constantly given a pass for their idiotic behaviour because ‘it’s just what men do’.

Take rape. You only have to look at the comments on an article like this one to see how many people’s first response to a serious conversation about rape is not to have a discussion about, say, whether anonymity should be given to the accused as well as the accuser until they are convicted, and whether police understand the complexities of different kinds of rapes, but rather, to shout about about what women should and shouldn’t wear, drink, do, or say, lest some poor little boy misinterpret it as a sexual invitation and be presumably powerless to stop himself (or communicate) any further from that point onwards.

It’s not just comments on the internet though. Seemingly decent people come out with some astounding irrational clangers about women and rape in every day conversation. For example:

“[In the context of a conversation about rape] But some women do actually go out dressed like they want sexual attention, then they complain about, like, builders shouting at them and stuff. Why don’t feminists say anything about those women?”

(I expect most feminists would say, newsflash: you can’t read someone’s mind and presume they want attention (harassment) just because of how they happen to be dressed, at the moment they happen to be in your vicinity. And if you really thought a woman was after your attention, you’d be grown-up enough to actually open up a conversation with her. You might think you’re fooling all your buddies by shouting across the street in the dark at a woman who would never look at you in a million years, as she scurries by looking over her shoulder, but I’m afraid I just see a little kid who’s scared of rejection.)

And, bizarrely: “Well, you say lesbians don’t like men staring at them. But what about those really femmed-up ones who just stand there openly kissing in public? They can’t seriously do that, then complain when a bunch of men think they’re doing it for attention!”

(This one just eludes me, to be honest. I mean, if she’s kissing someone else; someone who is a different gender to you, I don’t know how much more of a hint she can give you that she doesn’t want to have sex with you?)

But it’s worse than men being an irritation (or worse) when we’re on our way home after a night out. I’ve also heard guys saying:

“[I’m not a rapist but…] how are you supposed to tell if a woman changes her mind?”

“[I’m not a rapist but…] it’s really hard to tell if a woman is consenting or not. It’s not a clear cut issue, Louise.”

And, still more alarmingly, “No, it wasn’t rape! Oh my God! No, what happened, right: she consented at first, but she just didn’t like it! So he wasn’t raping her, that’s ridiculous – it’s just that he just didn’t stop!”

And – my personal favourite perhaps – “Well, I don’t know. Would you still call that rape? When he’s her boyfriend?”

Boys and girls: if you find it too hard to understand what consent looks like (and if it’s hard to tell, she’s probably not consenting), or more to the point, if you’re too immature or cowardly to actually, you know, communicate with the person you’re about to share sex with like a grown-up, then here’s my advice. Don’t have sex. Not just because you’ll clearly be terrible at it, but because you’re too immature to be ready for sex in the first place, and the experience would probably be wasted on you anyway.

But apparently this, I have been told (several times), is an unreasonable expectation to have of men. Really? Not the ones I know and love, it isn’t.

So correct me, gents, if I’m being too generous here, but I would imagine that these kind of comments are profoundly offensive to an awful lot of men?

In fact, if these men who thought the comments above were ‘just what men do’ talked about me the way they are talking about other men when they say that, I’d be downright furious. I am downright furious. Because all those decent, compassionate, feminist men that these sexist men are so threatened by are a million times better than them – and for anyone who’s based the entire foundation of their self-esteem on their ability to be violent and degrade women, that has to be quite disorienting. No wonder so many men feel so threatened by male feminists that they have to deny any actually exist!

It’s endemic of the way we have allowed our society to become that the nastiest and the most selfish get to dictate to everyone else what is and isn’t socially acceptable. But ‘just what men do?’ Do me a favour, love. If you haven’t personally evolved past rubbing your bits in the mud and urinating on your own feet yet, admit it. But don’t you dare pretend it’s ‘just because you’re a man.’ On the contrary: it’s just because you’re still a tiny little boy.

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