Friday, May 09, 2008

A 10p Silver Lining

After the stunning new YouGov poll figures that put Labour on 23% and the Conservatives on 49%, Gordon Brown must be wondering where all that support has gone. Why are all these people complaining about being better off? After all, over 40 million people gained by reducing the basic rate from 22p to 20p.

Well, Gordy, here's the thing. No matter how much you tell us that we're better off, Jo Public has shown that selflessness is still alive and well, after many of us thought that it had been eradicated.

I can't count the number of people who have said to me in so many words: "Yes I'm better off but I don't want it to be at the expense of people less well off."

For the first time in a very long time, I'm proud to be British again.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Bean Counter's "Fightback"

Nobody liked the fact that Tony Blair ruled by headlines and changed the direction of government in reaction to media opinion. However, it did mean he actually read the papers and was prepared to change.

Brown's admittance, in Andrew Marr's interview, that he's not going to change course "because of a couple of bad day's headlines" was more than just a Freudian slip: I think Brown actually believes that it's the fault of the media's coverage of the 10p debacle that the country has given him what he called a "difficult weekend" - the understatement of the year.

Whoever it was who decided to cut off the PM in midstream on Adam Boulton's show to go to a double-glazing advert, gets my vote. It was just after Gordon Brown said that the people of Britain "never thought that higher inflation would come in from the East". For once, I actually agree with him: No, I never thought about it even once. What planet is he on?

Rhetoric, arrogance and a total misunderstanding of why Labour got a kicking abounded. Trust me Gordon, people did not vote Conservative in huge numbers because they've looked at your economic policies for the next financial year and disagree with them. It's because the public see this administration as unfair, slow-moving and unchanging - and the lack of change after these elections proves the point. For a PM not to have a reshuffle just goes to show that there isn't anyone else on the Labour backbenches that could do the job better (and not knife Brown in the back while they're there).

According to Brown, good leadership is not just about the good times but getting through the bad times. Wrong. A good leader is just that, a leader. It's not someone who constantly looks at the the bottom line, it's someone who empathises with the country at large - something that Blair did well, albeit a bit smarmily. "I feel the hurt that they feel" and "I get it" are good soundbites but by saying "they", it proves he is disassociated from the country at large.

Brown said that the local elections were a "referendum on Labour". Balderdash. This was the country's first opportunity to give their opinion on Gordon Brown and he failed.

Brown might make a great accountant but he's no leader.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Mayor Boris!

What a 24 hours - or did it seem like a week to anyone else?

After the Labour freefall of the local elections and Boris' win in London, the only thing missing from the Conservatives running the country is the absence of David Cameron walking into Number 10.

We've got that winning feeling and after 11 hard years, it's a feeling that won't be going away anytime soon.

Congratulations to all the candidates and campaigners up and down the country - so many of whom are also part of the CWO. Everyone deserves a big pat on the back today (and probably a lie in!)

"Old Boris... New Boris... I was elected as New Boris and I will govern as New Boris." Brilliant

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On the Campaign Trail

Despite being Deputy Chairman of the CWO, I have to admit that up to last week, I had never been on the campaign trail - something that has now been rectified.

I can't vote in the London Mayoral elections as I live 5 miles outside of Greater London but I want Ken out just as much as those that live 5 miles closer, so when the CWO President, Fiona Hodgson (left in the photo with me in the middle and Sarah Palmer on the right), asked whether I would come campaigning for Boris in Richmond, I couldn't refuse.

I will never look at an election night the same again (or "Results Show" as they will probably be renamed). In previous elections, I have watched as party supporters have thronged around a stage to hear their candidate either win or lose, accompanied by cheers or the rustle of coats being gathered. I have wondered what would make them stand around in a cold hall for hours on end just to hear something you can see on the TV.

I spent a mere 2 days campaigning for Boris and I would have taken my hat off to all of them yesterday, if it hadn't been raining the proverbial cats and dogs. What I did for 2 days, campaign offices all over London have been doing for months - day in, day out and in vastly less salubrious surroundings than Richmond. I applaud them all, whatever candidate they're supporting.

I've always liked Richmond, except the traffic is horrendous. I'm also not too fond of the Nigel Mansell driven refuse trucks that made me kerb my day old new car. Most of all I hate that it's a Lib Dem constituency (3,731 maj). The lovely Zac Goldsmith (unashamed reason to post photo) is standing at the next election for the Conservatives, so you can count me in. Hopefully, if the Mayoral doorstepping is anything to go by, Richmond Park will be Conservative again by 2010 and I'll be one of the ones cheering on the results show from Richmond.

Just please don't let it rain during the campaign... [sniffle]

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Last Wolf Whistle?

The EU Consolidated Equal Treatment Directive 2006/54 is about to come into force in the UK. It finally includes real definitions of sexual harassment, harassment, direct and indirect discrimination.

The extension of the definition of sex discrimination covers any act that leads to intimidation or degradation. Sex related harassment is defined as unwanted conduct related to the sex of a person, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, and of creating a distressing intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

You would think this was a good thing. Not according to Sun columnist Fergus Shanahan. Apparently all of the above means that bar staff can now sue their employer if a customer calls them "duckie" or "luv".

For once, couldn't commentators see the good in something and not hypothesise assumptions that just aren't there? In my days as a barmaid, a simple "I'm not your luv" or "Don't call me duckie" was enough. I don't believe any barmaid would phone their lawyer for someone saying the female equivalent of "Thanks mate".

Some EU laws ARE preposterous and yes, Brown has glued us into Europe in a way that will probably come back and bite us, but don't make a joke out of something that gives men and women more protection and equality.


Fayed has finally said that he's giving up his 10 year campaign to prove that Princess Diana and his son Dodi were killed in a conspiracy.

He got the killed bit right. They were killed by a drunk driver. Only problem is that it was a drunk driver in Fayed's employ, something that his surreal conspiracy theories tried unsuccessfully to divert attention away from.

It was obvious that the Coroner's Court verdict was never going to end well for Fayed, but how Michael Cole has stayed and pandered to the man beggars belief (or Cole's bank balance).

Fayed truly believes that "the establishment" is against him: The Royal Family, Labour and Conservative Governments, the Police, MI5, MI6, the BBC, any journalist... actually anyone who dares to question him. They all have had a vendetta against him for decades apparently.

Mohammed, in your imaginary world, you're never going to win - it's time to leave the mountain and move abroad.

A Century of Political Advertising

I've just got round to looking at the Conservative Archive of Campaign Advertising. It includes some great memories - these are a few of my favourites. Click on any poster to view a large version. All posters are copyright Conservative Party Archive.

Poster 1929-02
Poster 1929-02
Poster 1929-46
Poster 1929-46
Poster 1929-17
Poster 1929-17
Poster 1950-01
Poster 1950-01
Poster 1954-04
Poster 1954-04
Poster 1970-05
Poster 1970-05
Poster 1978/9-01
Poster 1978/9-01
Poster 1978/9-03
Poster 1978/9-03
Poster 1997-08
Poster 1997-08
Poster 1992-15
Poster 1992-15
Poster 1999-01
Poster 1999-01
Poster 2004-01
Poster 2004-01

Monday, April 07, 2008

Does this Government care about violence to women - or not?

Last week a colleague and I watched two women members of this Government telling us how well they felt they were all doing with gender work throughout Government, how good they were about it being top of the agenda and part of everything they do.

The occasion was the launch of 'Making the Grade 07' by EVAW its annual assessment of what UK Government Departments are doing to tackle violence against women.

EVAW commends the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for scoring top marks for the second year running - they managed 7/10. Other departments managed halves and quarter marks - with DEFRA and Dept of Transport managing a zero caused by 'can't be botheredness' one presumes.

We are told the CPS is leading the way across Whitehall in developing a Violence Against Women Strategy. What is astonishing is that other departments are still failing to take this issue seriously meaning that policies on poverty, education and social exclusion do not make the connection to violence against women.


The Government shoots itself in the foot regarding women yet again.

We hear today that despite welcome talk about UNSCR 1325 and other gender-positive international obligations, no name has ever been submitted for a place on the CEDAW committee from the UK, and no-one is presently being nominated by the UK for any of the upcoming 11 places. Enquiries at the FCO say 'no funds to promote a UK nominee'

CEDAW was adopted nearly 30 years ago by the UN General Assembly, described as an international bill of rights for women.

But does the UK Government care about it? I think not. 'No funds to promote' ? Rather a feeble response when this is one of the toughest issues facing society today.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A few facts about H2O

It was only when I started travelling to hot countries as a young adult that I started to realise what a precious commodity water really is but even so, it always astonishes you when facts and figures put it in its proper prospective.

Zehra Zaidi (the SW Conservative MEP Candidate) has done just that in a fascinating article for World Water Day on the 22nd March.

You can read it in full here but some of the highlights include:

  • 40 billion working hours are spent carrying water each year in Africa equivalent to France's entire workforce for a year
  • Women are disproportionately affected by poor water and sanitation. For example, they often have to fetch and carry water which keeps them out of school. According to DFID, 11% more girls attend school when sanitation is available.
Tap into WaterAid is a new scheme asking for donations everytime anyone asks for a glass or jug of tap water in participating restaurants.

A nice idea which I hope catches on but shouldn't there also be an automatic donation on all bottled water served in restaurants - not forgetting the Palace of Westminster? That way people might start using tap water instead of bottled, which can only help save the environment AND help WaterAid.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Time to Re-Index Inflation

Everyone except Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown believes that inflation is much higher than 2.5%. Indeed, even the Office of National Statistics allow you to calculate your own personal inflation and say that National Inflation is nearer 4%.

NB: You will need to download Adobe's SVG Viewer first to calculate your own inflation - scroll half way down the adobe page to the download links, click on Win98-XP and run it, then go back to the National Statistics website.

My inflation (see graph on right) is running at around 5% and has been as high as 8% last year.

I'm a pretty average person, although I don't use my car much, so my inflation will be a lot lower than other people's.

The "basket of goods" change today and more new technology will undoubtedly be added, which isn't relevant as the price of technology naturally falls.

Unless mortgages and fuel prices are added to the inflation calculation, what hope have the Bank of England got in setting interest rates that are relevant to the country's economic state?

This fudging of the inflation figures could end up being dangerous if interest rates bear no resemblance to the real world.

Big Trouble in Little China

What's happening in Tibet is worrying - especially as the protests are spreading to other Chinese provinces.

If this was any ordinary year, the Chinese Government would deal with any protests in their normal thumping fist way, blindly ignoring any overseas protests. But in 144 days, the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics will take place.

What we don't want are boycotts: The Chinese Olympic Committee have nothing to do with Tibet, plus a tit-for-tat boycott could decimate the London Olympics in 2012.

Is there anything that foreign diplomats can do? I doubt it. The protests are internal politics and we certainly wouldn't like the Chinese interfering with ours. But the way they deal with the protests could become the world's responsibility if they further destroy their human rights record.

I doubt the Beijing's diplomats will be getting much sleep in the next few weeks.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Puppet Masters Budget

This was always going to be a bad budget (but we didn't realise how boring a budget could be until Darling stood up). It was going to be bad because the Treasury has no room for manoeuvre after the economic mis-management for the past 10 years. Brown has left us in debt up to the eyeballs with the Treasury needing more and more money.

We're the worst-prepared developed country going into this worldwide downturn and Darling's only response is that we're actually "well placed" and that our debt is half what it was in the early 90s. If that is the best comeback Darling's team could come up with, we're in serious trouble.

After the 7th consecutive budget that the Treasury have underestimated their public sector spending figures, UK debt currently stands at 574 billion pounds and will reach 809 billion pounds by 2010/11. And they're probably the only figures that they can't fudge, as the rules are set out in the Maastricht Treaty.

As Darling couldn't reduce the tax burden, what he should have done was what Nigel Lawson did in the mid-80s: Simplify the tax system. The only people making any money from Labour budgets are the accountants.

Instead he squeezed us even more and pretended that inflation really is at 2% and that the economy will be back on track by the end of next year. That's one hell of a gamble, considering everyone else thinks that Britain is poorly placed to face up to the credit crunch. Either everyone else, or this Government, is living on another planet.

The booze taxes won't even begin to dent binge drinkers (an extra £1 onto cider and alcopops might have done) and as for the time spent rabbiting on about plastic bags..!

I don't mind paying for plastic bags (I already buy black bin bags but nobody seems worried about them), what I mind is Central Government sticking their nose into what is a naturally occuring event: Supermarkets will get rid of plastic bags or charge for them eventually - we don't need yet another new law piled on top of all the other ones that aren't regulated.

What defines the ill-thought out madness of this 'budget', though, is the new so-called Showroom Tax. When people are put off from buying a new Ford Mondeo because they'll be £250 a year worse off, all this means is that people will buy more second hand cars - and older cars are less efficient and therefore higher polluters.

This is the same crazy logic that Ken Livingstone uses when charging luxury car drivers £25 to drive into London. It's nothing to do with CO2 emissions, it all to do with taxing people who have struggled to become successful against the odds of living under nuLabour.

Why not tax the 25 year old cars that gleefully pump out CO2 (and a host of other nasties) and get them off the road: Encourage people to buy newer, more efficient models. Saying that, I drive an astounding 3 whole thousand miles per year. So why should I pay the same car tax as someone who drives 100,000? Yes, fuel duty regulates this to an extent but my personal choice of having a comfortable car to drive those 3,000 miles is mine to make - not the Government's.

It's this twisted, nonsensical administration over our economic policies that will leave the Conservatives with yet another headache similar to the state they inherited in 1979. We need a Conservative government to get us back on course.... and quickly.

And finally... One more thing on our increasing national debt burden. In January 2008, Brown said in an interview with The Observer: "Yes, there will be people that take advantage of a liberalised economy and sometimes make the wrong personal decisions for their own debt. And we must have the best advice and the best help for people in these circumstances."

Hello, this is the pot calling... can I speak to the black kettle?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Award for the Worst Carbon Emissions

On the eve of the Australian Grand Prix, data published by authorities in both London and Melbourne (Australia), have found that, per year, London pumps out an average of 1.2 tonnes of carbon per person and Melbourne pumps out 3.1 tonnes per person!

The problem is the abundant supply of brown coal found in the state and 97% of Victoria's electricity supply is from burning it.

According to a 2005 WWF Report, the Hazelwood Power Station in Latrobe Valley, Victoria, is the dirtiest power station in Australia and the most polluting power station in the industrialised world.

It also doesn't help that 80% of Victorians use their cars every day, leaving the reliable, clean and remarkably cheap (by UK standards) rail and tram travel to the poorer inhabitants and tourists.

There is good news though. Melbourne City Council has initiated a dramatic policy to reduce the city's net greenhouse emissions to zero by 2020. Watch this space.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Whingeing Clegg

Nick Clegg as just finished his speech to the Lib Dem faithful in Liverpool.

Walking around the stage (a lot) without notes, Clegg managed at least to prove his eyesight was excellent, reading his speech off a 60-inch plasma autocue at the back of the auditorium.

The speech, although better than most Lib Dem leader speeches, was unfortunately filled to the brim with scaremongering rhetoric. And then there was the whingeing... and whining... and moaning... it went on and on and on.

He threw his dummy out of the pram while he promised to continue to walk out of the Commons; he stamped his feet while he promised to continue to abstain; he thcweemed and thcweemed and thcweemed while he promised to not go to meetings or dinners that he didn't agree with.

Apparently, the Lib Dems are taking a long holiday and going to do absolutely nothing at all. Not much difference there then.

So to their policies - and aren't they different from those tyrannical Labour people and the "sham" politics of the Conservatives?

From what I heard the Lib Dems are going to:

1) Cut VAT on fruit juice that mostly contains more sugar than normal Coca-Cola
2) Decentralise control over hospitals (have I heard that one before? Oh, yes, from the Conservatives)
3) A Derek Conway clause to allow local people to vote to get rid of their MP if they're suspended (not a bad idea but can we do that with a government as well, say, every 6 months?)
3) Invest in children's education

The last one was a peach, as it was for children's eduction that he (and I quote) "will find the £2.5 billion it will cost". Bless. And this was the man who called Conservative policies a sham.

Clegg wants to tax "only what we need and not a penny more". Apart from the obvious back track on their penny on taxes campaign at the last election, the U-turn leaves me thinking that the Lib Dems want this country run as a charity. Sorry to have to tell you, Nick, but UK plc needs to make a profit and the books are well into the red at the moment.

And as for all the "Now this is the time for change" and "The chance for change is there... within our reach... it's ours to take... so let's seize it."

Could all political speechwriters please close the book on Obama speeches, once and for all?!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Gender Neutral Tosh

Jack Straw has once again been beating the Gender Neutral Terminology drum. This has been going on for years.

Yet again, in a written statement today, he wants titles like 'Chairman' banned from Parliament (to be replaced by Chair) as "the use of male pronouns reinforces gender stereotypes and could be confusing".

Yesterday, I was extremely priviliged to become Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Women's Organisation.

Ooops... did I say Deputy Chairman... as in Woman... and Human... and Mankind?

Grief! I do apologise. I meant to refer to myself as a deputy piece of furniture, a woperson, a huperson and a member of the personkind race.

The term "man" has always been inclusive. However, if I thought that there could be any confusion, then Madame Deputy Chairman is fine too (just longer!)

And if we're going to ban names because they could be confusing, then I feel sorry Hilary Benn.

CWO Leading the Way

One thing that became blatantly clear throughout the Commons debate on International Women's Day was the importance of the work that the CWO is doing behind the scenes and in its Forums and Summits.

The main issues highlighted by the Commons were honour killings, forced marriages, rape, prostitution, violence against women, women in war zones, women in the armed forces and sex-trafficking... all subjects that either have, or are planned to be discussed and worked on by the CWO.

These are not easy subjects and yesterday's mini-conference on Violence Against Women was a good example.

If you were unable to attend the AGM and conference, a full report of the day will appear on our website soon, but suffice to say that it will not be the last time we discuss the subject and if you want to take part in a debate, come and listen, or help us, please make sure that you keep an eye on our diary for future events, or contact us directly.

International Women's Day

Today was International Women's Day and I was extremely pleased to see a large part of both the Commons and Lords business dedicated to the subject.

The debate was started by a particularly partisan speech by The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman), who consistently refused to give way to Conservative Mark Pritchard, giving her reason as this:

"I am not giving way to one of the 91 per cent. I suggest that Conservative Members should give way to more women"

Not giving way because he's a man? I was hoping that she would want to interrupt one of the male speakers further into the debate and be given the same reason (because she's a woman) but unfortunately she left the chamber not long into the debate.

The 91% referred to the percentage of Conservative male MPs over their female counterparts. She wasn't wrong about the statistic and it will be improved in the next Parliament, but her tone to open what could have become cross party support over so many important issues, was contemptible.

Apart from Ms Harman, there were many excellent speeches from both sides of the house, including some extremely generous compliments to the newly elected CWO President, and former Chairman, Fiona Hodgson, and to the work done by the CWO. These came from Alistair Burt, Eleanor Laing and Brooks Newmark.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Punishing Patients and Treating Prisoners

On the 1st July 2008, the smoking ban will come into effect for all mental health institutions - both in the buildings and the grounds.

Mental health patients are not allowed to leave the grounds to have a smoke but are more likely to smoke - 70% compared to the UK average of 26% - which is hardly surprising.

Two patients are taking their local NHS Trust to court under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees respect for private and family life; another is taking on the Secretary of State for Health for introducing the law in the first place. You'd think common sense would allow a mental health patient the odd cigarette in an outdoor smoking area.

Prisons, however, will continue to remain exempt.

Are we seriously now treating prisoners and punishing patients?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Final day and coming home

So we're back. Hotfoot off the plane last night and home to family and friends.

The last day in New York was as busy and varied as the others. An excellent session booked by the permanent UK Mission to the UN on the subject of resolution 1325 with a good panel which included UK reps and a very good US lawyer who specialises in this field.

The presentations were excellent, but as with a number of sessions the Q&A session yields the most information and sharing of views and detail. We all now know that we have much more of a handle on Res 1325, but a good read of the 18 points is also called for. Questions need to be asked of our own Government as to how much they are maintaining the resolution (not a huge amount of evidence in their favour...) and questions also need to be asked of our own Front bench as to future plans.

Pauline attended a presentation on widowhood and the agonies of how widows are treated in some cultures. Being widowed is always tragic - but being put out of house and home by your husband's family and literally thrown onto the streets is not something we generally have to consider here in the UK - but make no mistake there are also parallels in the treatment of widows here and in other developed countries by families, banks, and others.

Fiona headed for further discussion on 1325, and Eve met with a group from the Mothers Union throughout the world to discuss their field work in training Parish workers to work specifically with women and children in the basics of budgeting, cooking, and starting small businesses.

Our experience at the 52nd CSW has been a very powerful one. We have met with women from all around the world, and find that regardless of culture and creed, our passion to help those in conflict situations, in poverty, and in violent and abusive situations binds us together more strongly than anything that would divide us.

Our goals on return are to speak to politicians from all sides to find out several things:
  • How much do they know about violence to women?
  • Resolution 1325 - how is it being included in field action and legislation on a day to day basis?
  • What action are they taking to ensure that these issues are raised at the highest levels?
  • How do they see the future - when will women be able to be safe?
I think we have our work cut out......

Friday, February 29, 2008

What endangers women and children?

Irresponsible reporting by the Drudge Report and quite shameful tail-gating by Jon Snow has not gone unnoticed here in the US. We have spent this week discussing the tragic effects of war in particular on women and children. The UN Commission does not take these things lightly and we are with some 5000 women from around the world, many of whom have first hand experience of finding themselves in women-headed families and communities struggling with physical, financial and social disaster.

So does the Drudge report think they have been helpful?

We have a culture of 'if you know it, tell it' that has developed, but the majority of responsible journalists know when to use their common sense and choose not to report.

Come to the CSW Mr Drudge. Come and talk to women to whom the impact of careless words has a long term, devastating effect, sometimes outcast from their communities. Leaving them exposed and powerless - yet again.

In the second World War we learnt that careless talk cost lives. It still does.

Anger at Drudge

Hopefully the CWOs who are currently in New York may be able to get a US viewpoint on this but I am so incredibly angry with Matt Drudge for the unprofessional way he leaked the news that Harry is in Afghanistan.

For the life of me I can't see any reason he did it, other than to announce to the world that he knew. Well, Matt, it may amaze you to know that a surprisingly large number of people this side of the Atlantic already knew, but they managed to keep their ego under control.

Probably more disappointing, Channel 4's Jon Snow thanks Drudge for doing it.

Has anyone seriously been thinking "I wonder if Harry is in Afghanistan?" for the past 10 weeks? The media are there to report news that is in the public interest - this was not - and has consequently put a member of our armed forces in danger.

I wonder what the fallout would be if Brad Pitt joined the US troops and a UK blog leaked it?

UPDATE: It has been pointed out that it wasn't Matt Drudge who did the originally leaking - this was from New Idea (Gossip) Magazine in Australia, which printed it on the 7th January, and Germany's Bild . Bild should have known better and New Idea say that they had No Idea about an embargo (what happened to plain old common sense?)

Both reports were ignored by the rest of the world's media: It was Drudge that gave the story a voice, which he knew would happen. Yes, I believe Bild and New Idea were ignorant but I blame Drudge.

'I guess that's why they call it the blues...'

So, here are the postcards for those who are feeling we have not been good on the whole mailing home thing. Please read and enjoy.

Usual stuff; 'Having a good time, wish you were here, weather mixed' !!

Today has been a slightly less pressured day at CSW. Fiona headed for the UN for a good meeting with UNIFEM on securing women's housing and property rights when they are affected by HIV/AIDS.

The sessions tomorrow pick up again on gender architecture, issues surrounding rights for widows, and African land issues.

The week has been quite pressured, and yesterday in particular had covered a large amount of harrowing information, so the slight 'down day' has come at a good moment. As the trip has been voluntary, and funded independently by each of us, it has been nice to have a bit of NY playtime!

Pauline and Eve decided to investigate the 'other side' of the American economy by travelling on the Staten Island Ferry over to a retail park north of the island. The Ferry now goes from a spectacular new terminal at Battery Park, but is still a free service. The terminal has some glamorous aquariums to watch while you await your ferry (sponsored by Staten Island Zoo) and we snapped a picture of the 'Fiona Fish' - so named today because as you know Fiona loves her turquoise!

Staten is a very different place to the city, even though it is a mere 20 minute ferry ride away. The population in this one NYC Borough is 600,000, which has doubled in less than 20 years, (total City population for the 5 Boroughs is 8.2 million) with very little having been done to add to the infrastructure. Although mainly a dormitory for the city, the quality of life for people on the island has deteriorated in part because of this.

We had a reason for heading to this particular place - a craft emporium called JoAnn that specialises in quilting fabrics and equipment, one of Mrs L's hobbies, but it gave us an opportunity to see a very different side of New York.

And for those of you who have been reading this blog with bated breath THE CONCERT WAS FANTASTIC!!!

Messrs Clapton and Winwood were stunning. Performing with a three-piece band that included Willie Weeks (bass), Chris Stainton (keyboards) and Ian Thomas (drums), the duo traded vocals and instrumentals with well-practiced ease. Clapton's solos in Traffic's "Pearly Queen" and "Dear Mr. Fantasy", Winwood's keyboard work and amazing vocals (for an old bloke!) made songs as Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" and Clapton's "Tell the Truth" brilliant. Winwood strapped on a guitar for most of the Blind Faith songs, as well as numbers including the rollicking "Low Down".

Each star also delivered one solo number, with Clapton performing an acoustic version of "Ramblin' on My Mind" and Winwood did a great version of "Georgia on My Mind".

Of course, the Blind Faith classics including "Had to Cry Today", "Presence of the Lord" and "Can't Find My Way Home" got the biggest cheers, but Clapton pop hits as "Forever Man" and "After Midnight" came close.

We stomped, we whistled, we screamed a bit, we clapped, we smelt the wacky baccy coming from the seats behind(!) and we had a very good time. Hopefully we will get the video clips up tomorrow.

So that's about it for todays adventures. Some photos of things we have done......

Thursday, February 28, 2008

This you will not believe....

So we thought we should get a bit of 'culture' - web searching for theatre, off Broadway and all that, guess what we found?


So guess where we will be from 8pm??

Report tomorrow ... and maybe some CSW news too!

Sex, drugs and rock n roll

Today has been one of challenge and argument. In fact as we blog we are still arguing!

We split up this morning with Fiona and Pauline heading to the morning briefing. The main point of information was that every country is to have an opportunity to speak independently tomorrow on reproductive health instead of one submission from the European caucus.

Eve attended a session with the UN Human Settlement Program with regard to Land Access Trusts in Africa and India. The Trusts are set up to give women and women headed families the opportunity to gain training in financial matters, get mortgages, and start businesses in order that they might support themselves and their families.

Economics of the sex industry is the item that has caused so much group controversy. UNANIMA organised the meeting along with the Coalition against Trafficking. The packed to over flowing meeting heard from Melissa Farley, an American feminist research and clinical psychologist who has done recent research into prostitution and the sex industry in Las Vegas Nevada. We also heard from Victor Malarek, an investigative journalist who has spent some 30 years working looking at the industry and its victims. His recent book is The Natashas, inside the global sex trade, exposes yet more terrible statistics and facts.

We also heard from a lawyer, and Dr Gail Dines, Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies who has made numerous studies of the media culture surrounding the sex industry. Professor Dines showed very graphic slides of magazines and available mainstream Internet pornography in an effort to encourage us to understand that this is all freely available and accessed by many.

And that's where the arguments started.....

How do we undo the culture? Can we 'go back' to a time when this was not the norm and kids were not brought up to see violent pornography as normal? what do we think about advertising? How sexually explicit should films / videos / music videos / advertising be?

The discussions continue.....

Today has definitely been challenging on the emotional front. The National Council of Women in GB held and event on the effects of war on women and children. 70% of victims in war are women and children... that statistic alone is horrifying. Womankind Worldwide have produced a document called Taking Stock Update: Afghan Women and Girls Seven Years On which makes disturbing reading.

NAWO Widowhood in Conflict session followed on - the neglected gender issue addressing needs and and supporting roles. The African protocol has been introduced in Kurdistan because things are rather better now, and that does give opportunity for explicit detail on gender issues to be enacted.

Eve got off rather lighter during the afternoon and attended a League of Women Voters session on how to lobby your MP/Representative/Town Mayor/person of influence. She thought this might be a useful tool for the working day back in Parliament!

But seriously - it was a really effective session with a ten point practical plan for people to follow based on the idea that you might only get 60 seconds to get your point across, and how prepared you should be. The League of Women voters are a great group, cross party and dedicated to getting as many voters, especially women, registered and out to the polls.

Now getting back to the fun of the day; guess who we met? Eleanor Laing MP our Shadow Justice Ministry spokesman out here with the IPU, and also Baroness Joyce Anelay, representing the Lord's Speaker.

They were as surprised to see us as we were to see them - but so good that we can exchange views on how the CSW progresses and get more women in the Party involved back in the UK.

We had dinner with Eleanor - and enjoyed a joke with George the Millenium Hotel doorman! (No we are not staying there unfortunatley!!!)

So as we finish blogging at just gone midnight here in NY we have had a day that challenged our emotions and the concept of what can be legislated for, and what is about the human condition, and how we can make the world a rather better place for women.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Release your inner strawberry

Well we have finally cracked the whole getting up on time thing - discovery of the BBC World Service on the cranky clock radio in the apartment!! Nothing quite like waking up to the BBC to get you stirring rather quicker.

This morning we attended the NGO briefing on the main UN floor. The Bureau for the CSW attended and introduced themselves, and we were given some 'do's and don'ts' by the NGO group Chairman. Sitting in the UK seats on the floor was something of an excitement - and what is interesting is just how worn and non-technical the whole UN set up is. We somehow expected slick new and high tech - the reality is elderly, cranky, and with translation channels badly affected by mobile phone signals! However, we were very taken with getting behind the UK sign!

Fiona then attended UNIFEM – 'Getting some Action' – the Role of NGOs in implementing SCR 1325. There was a short presentation on Women's Rights & Gender Equality, the new Aid Environment and Civil Society Organisations, and diversity of women's organizations and the work on issues of finance and gender equality.

Pauline attended a session run by Sweden and the other Nordic countries concerning measures to combat men's violence against women, honour-related violence and oppression and measures to combat trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes. The session highlighted how forward Sweden, Denmark and Norway are with this agenda and how user friendly their documentation is in comparison with the UK. The action plans and documents give sound practical advice and direction lacking in some other countries. Do look at the Reports and Links page on our website for web sites and details.

Pauline was on a roll and then headed for Panel on "Experiences on Financing for Women’s Health," sponsored by UNFPA and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The panel included Mari Simonen, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director (External Relations, United Nations Affairs, and Management).

Following the meeting we had held in London with Oxfam and representatives of the Africa Women's Protocol, Eve and Fiona attended an Oxfam organised meeting on the Launch of Program Packs Publication on the Protocol. This was a packed meeting at which various representatives from African countries talked about how the African Women’s Protocol was being implemented in their country.

Now - about your inner strawberry...... have you found yours? Do you know where it is? How do you FEEL about it?

What you may be wondering is the whole strawberry thing about? WELL................................

We went to a meeting to discuss the possibilities of a Fifth World Women's Conference and we thought we would be thinking country, venue, numbers, how to publicise, purpose, how to involve Governments etc etc etc................

Not so. A very nice lady indeed initially addressed the meeting. She told us that she saw everyone in the room as a beautiful strawberry, and we were to send out our strawberry seeds and plant them in fertile soil so that we would spread the word throughout womankind.

Ok then.

Are you doing it now? Seeking that inner strawberry? Searching for some fertile area? Hmmmm

The reality of such a large conference is there are some amazing fantastic women of very many varieties. Different colours, creeds, belief structures and spirituality. So we all come at this from a different perspective, and maybe, just maybe, seeking our inner strawberry on occasions might not be a bad thing.

Inner strawberry's tucked away we headed for another fruit - the underground 24 hour Apple Store - brand new by Central Park and a haven for geeks and techies of all kinds. heading down in the glass lift we found ourselves lost in a world of music, gadgets and gloss

Madam Chairman seemed to really like it!!!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says we ‘cannot wait’ to end violence against women

CSW formally opened today with a speech by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The session opened at 10am - while delegates still trying to get accredited queued through the lobby. Organisation and speed are not a UN speciality!

Mr Ban Ki-Moon inspired us all with his call to launch a global campaign to end violence against women. He said "I am counting on you - advocates from Government, civil society and the UN - to carry our message around the world." His speech ended with a blast of whistles, by both the Secretary-General and delegates and officials, signalling the call the stop the violence.

The CSW is extremely well attended for this session, and the main opening was expanded to two main UN session rooms to enable as many people as possible to hear all the opening remarks. All are published on the UN site at

Lunch found us searching for a SMOKE FREE cafe! One of the peculiarities of the UN being a stateless building is that smoke free legislation has not happened, something us smoke free Brits find quite odd. However, a foray to the upper floors found us in the One World cafe, where you share your lunch with very many nationalities along with spectacular views over the River Hudson.

Post lunch we attended a UNite (UN campaign to stop the violence) meeting - a Special Event on Violence against Women organized by the Officer of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women. An excellent panel included Rachel N. Mayanja, Kevin Powell, a New York-based writer and political activist involved in preventing gender violence for over 17 years, Michealeane Risley, a women’s advocate and award-winning documentarian, Todd Minerson, Executive Director of the White Ribbon Campaign, Prateek Suman Awasthi, who worked with the India-based Men against Violence and Abuse organisation, Anne Sosin, Founder and Director of Vizyon Dwa Ayisyen/Haiti Rights Vision and Captain Aimable Mushabe, a Rwandan military officer.

We were fascinated by their very practical and moving stories of what they were each doing on the ground with their organisations, and the ensuing Q&A session from the floor proved lively.

One of the interesting things of being at the CSW is the huge variety of views and activists here. There is a main thread that binds us all, but with a vast mixture of 'how do we get there' processes and practical thoughts.

During the afternoon Fiona also took part in a drafting session for resolutions following yesterdays brainstorming sessions, and we all attended the launch of a tool for working out how to audit your organisation and functions for gender equality at all levels.

Then we have to admit to hitting a bar!!

The evening was an excellent reception at the UK Mission to the UN with Sir John Sawers, UK Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. We met most of the UK delegation during the evening from a cross section of groups and organisations.

Baroness Gould presenting Sir John Sawyer with a book on theatre from the delegation

Tomorrow we are looking at implementing UN resolution 1325, finding the 'power' in empowerment, and following up on the work we have already done on the Africa Women's Protocol. Also the UNIFEM 'Getting some action' session - still trying to work out what to expect from that!! So very varied to say the least!

The main Commission sessions tomorrow are an expert panel on financing for gender equality and capacity building and mainstreaming a gender perspective.

Fiona and Pauline in the UN building

Monday, February 25, 2008

NGO-CSW Consultation Day

Sunshine!!! Lots and lots of sunshine!
As we headed down to the NYU Medical School at 8am to register the sun made New York look particularly glorious as the buildings gleamed.

We join the line - another line - to have our NGO registration confirmed.

The morning started with an address by Vivien Pender – Chair of NGO CSW - she welcomed us to the day of orientation for Financing for Success and Security. This was followed by HE Ambassador Olivier Belle – Chairperson Bureau of the Commission on the Status of Women. He told us that CSW is now attracting a lot of people – several thousand NGOs - with some groups sending more than 30 people.

CSW will touch on subsidiary themes as well as the main theme, with the work plan being
1. Theme for the next session
2009 Shared Responsibility between men and women – care for AIDS
Fundamental for women in society

2. Violence against Women
Secretary-General will open with a campaign
Will try to concentrate on concrete indicators

3. Women and Climate Change
Top priority and an emerging issue in the UN
Bali conference had been a good result but is not the end of the work which needs doing
Emerging issue is the relationship between women and climate change
Women are better placed to tackle the changes

And finally a review of the Priority Theme from 2004 which was Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution.

Ms. Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women addressed the conference. The CSW has a long tradition of working with NGOs around the world. She highlighted that the CSW was the most important forum on gender equality – what happens here will make a difference around the world and be implemented in many countries. NGOs have always been active in the work of the UN.

Mrs. Rachel Mayanja, Assistant Secretary General, and Special Adviser to the UN-Secretary General on Gender Equality and the Advancement of Women then talked about gender equality in the work of the UN through gender mainstreaming.

She talked about it being focused on the women’s perspective through 4 entities in the UN, how every piece of future work must look at how the system makes a difference to women, and how progress for women is progress for all.


Taking in a large amount of information in a packed lecture hall made the team somewhat desperate for refreshment, so leaving our glorious leader Chairman at her post (and minding the coats!) we stepped down the Hall to find some more buckets of coffee and Granola bars to sustain us.

We returned to listen to an excellent address by Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak – a University Professor from Columbia. A challenging and engaging Indian lady who was not adverse to blunt speech to get her point across, and some amusing tales about translators and Kant the Philosopher - we'll leave the rest of that to your imagination!!! She left us with this thought. 'First, forget the word HELP'

Tomorrow CSW starts in earnest with opening speeches at 10am. We have a master plan of which break out groups and parallel meetings we will each attend and will each report back.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

CWO hit the NY streets

Saturday morning dawned snowy and dark but undaunted we sallied forth to find out all that NY has to offer for our one 'down day' of the week. First stop the Subway station to get subway maps and Metrocard details. We cannot seem to move more than a few feet without very kindly New Yorkers stopping to ask if they can help us. This leads us to believe we either:
  • look amazingly ditzy
  • talk loudly and attract attention
  • look like we need getting off the streets
.... or probably all three!

Next stop 5th Avenue to gaze at some of the most amazing stores in the world - and some of the most amazing designer shoppers, complete with designer dogs (one wearing an I Love NY sweater!) We spotted a gentleman in Saks with the most extraordinary giant sheepskin hat that gave the impression it was moving between the clothes racks unaided - hilarious!

We purchased hats and scarves at a street stand, with much laughter all round - especially from the stall holders. The hats may make these pages as the week goes on.....

Later in the day we made our way to what was Ground Zero. Still a pilgrimage site for many, and has an air of thoughtfulness that settles on groups standing to look at the new building site.

A walk down to the river gave us the spectacular snowy view of the Statue of Liberty.

Sunday will be spent at the NGO Conference learning about the themes for the week and splitting into working groups, and we hope to meet more members of our delegation.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

'Let it snow let it snow let it snow' (sung of course!)

CWO hits New York by storm - literally! Arrived to blizzards and deep snow, but never daunted we plowed through the streets to our apartment (cozy!) (still speaking!) and then onto the UN Building to register.

And that's pretty much where we stopped.

First impressions are not of efficiency - queue process took a full 7 minutes a person - and there are a lots of persons. We queued for three and a half hours BUT - RESULT - we have UN Passes!!!
(Picture: Fiona & Eve at the UN building)
The joy of 'standing in line' made us new friends from mainly the US - Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Milwaukee, Florida and beyond. Plus some Brits and a Slovenian. The line experience resulted in ideas of where to get cheap theatre tickets, an invite to Methodist morning worship for two days, and an introduction to Godiva choc mint sweeties.

Conversations were wide ranging and gave us the chance to explain a little of where the Party stands on issues, and dispel the myth that any Party with the word 'conservative' in it would not be ready for change and fresh thinking - something that seemed to be a surprise to our US sisters.

We also experienced our first US bucket of coffee, the great corner cafe by the apartment, and our first 'have a nice day now'.

Saturday is an orientation programme around Macys, Bloomingdales, Saks and 5th Avenue! We need to research how US ladies are projecting their image to the world, and how we can assist in their mission. Plus we are reading the vast of paperwork issued for the Commission on the Status of Women, and meeting up with other delegates

Our Chairman said 'We have to reach out to our sisters around the world and share common experience , it is going to be a very exciting and enlightening week. Sunday is a full day of NGO Conference, where we will have the opportunity to work in individual subject groups and also hear more about the work of the Commission with NGOs.'

So we head out into the day - more in our next!!!!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Heading for the USA

Chairman Fiona, along with Deputies Pauline and Eve are off to New York on Friday 22nd February.

Another shopping trip you might ask? Absolutely not (although we might just have to pop into Macys....) but as delegates to the 52nd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We are attending under the umbrella of the National Association of Womens Organisations here in the UK, and will be part of the vast numbers of delegates falling into the NGO bracket.

The main theme is Financing for Gender equality and the Empowerment of women, with a second theme of Women in conflict resolution and peacemaking roles.

We are delighted to be able to attend one week of the two week Commission and (apart from the wild and frantic packing going on here...) will post daily blogs here on the site so that you all know what we are hearing, debating, discussing and learning.