Friday, 27 February 2009

I actually do predict an actual riot!

Right, first off, to persuade you that the content of this post is much better than it actually is, I want you to stop, open a new window, and listen to this song. It's the new single by The Indelicates, 'The Recession Song', feat. Nicky Biscuit and Mickey from Art Brut. I have been stamping around to it all day; it takes a very special song to make my heart hammer like a tiny flywheel, and this is it.

There's trouble in America, trouble you can touch
You can't go to rehab 'cause it costs too much!
No career, no hope, no fun no fashion
Thank fuck for the fucking recession!

Several posts are cooking, delayed in the ether by other journalism, the kind of writing which I enjoy less but which might possibly pay me enough to carry on eating duchy's original prescription medication, smoking finest gold leaf and keeping the boyfriend in gin and ribbons. I have what I believe to be some incredibly subtle and well-reasoned ideas about what the commentary on Ivan Cameron's death says about the nation, but I'm so damn angry about everything else right now that I just don't trust myself to reason well, or to be tactful in any way. So you'll just have to live without my stunnning insights there. The discussions from Monday's post really did get me thinking, though; would anyone be interested in a separate post about the private school system, if I promised to try and keep it mostly free from disgusting middle-class guilt?

Oh, also: if you woke up this morning even vaguely satisfied with the state of the world, check out the Daily Mail Racial Purity Test, published to great acclaim yesterday. I'm actually not actually joking. Sunder Katwala, Chair of the Fabian Society, has a fantastic response over at Liberal Conspiracy. Essentially, guys, it's not enough to have been born here - both of your parents have to have been born here, and all of your grandparents as well, or you simply aren't German British. That counts me out then, as I don't have even one British grandparent. Perhaps I'll write to them and explain that, whilst I am a lefty and a shortarse, it's not my fault, because I'm a filthy furriner and I don't know any better, and anyway Frank Field says that I won't have a detrimental affect on community cohesion because, yknow, I'm white.

Or perhaps they can get to fuck. I'm PROUD of my immigrant heritage. I have the dark eyes and curves of my mother's Maltese family, the pale skin and fine dark hair of my father's Lithuanian roots; I have the work ethic of my immigrant Jewish family and when I get drunk I sing like my Irish cousins. I was born in the heart of London. This city pounds in my blood with its thousands of cultures and races, its colours, its music and its misery. I'm glad that on my daily walk to the tube I can hear Turkish and Polish and Hindi and Swahili being spoken; that on my way home I can stop and buy halva, or sour cabbage soup or a fresh pide for my tea, or best of all, staggering back high and dazed from a night out, I can stop at the corner shop and pick up a stick of rose kulfi, which is the absolutely nicest thing ever and tastes like a rose might taste if it made love to a mini milk lolly in the back of a seedy pink limousine coated in sugar. I'm proud to live in the most racially diverse city in the world - there are not many things that make me proud of my country right now but that's one of them. Living here has made me a wiser, more knowledgeable and more tolerant person, and I believe that one should only be patriotic about the bits of one's country that challenge you to be better than you are.

I had more to say, but the corner shop shuts in ten minutes and I've made myself want kulfi now. Hold that thought.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Public Service Announcement: Ivan Cameron

Out of respect for the fact that David Cameron's disabled son, Ivan, died this morning, I've taken down Monday's post for now. I'll put it back up in a week, not least because we had a great discussion going on in the comments. If you desperately want to make any comments between now and then, just email them to me at the address below. But - even though a tory is a tory is a tory - the man and his grieving family deserve a break. And if I can contribute to that break whilst squatting in my small corner of the blogosphere, I think it's only proper to do so. As always, please feel free to disagree.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Biscuits and bigotry: our glorious leaders.

****Please note: none of the following links is safe for work, or for those with delicate constitutions.****

Like most quiet, bookish middle-class girls with secretly filthy minds, I had always thought that the Soggy Biscuit Game was an urban legend/ a teatime accident/ something that Stephen Fry made up. According to the internet, this is not the case. According to the internet, it really happens.

For those across the pond/ around the world/ living in a cardboard box on the M6, the Soggy Biscuit game is, well. It's a game that posh public schoolboys are supposed to play. It involves wanking, and public humiliation, and a biscuit. Oh, bloody hell, just check the Wiki.

This is another thing that makes me inestimably glad that I was not spawned amongst the upper eschelons of society. I'm not trying to suggest that toffs are any more degenerate than the rest of us, but bog-standard, everyday sexual deviancy and experimentation is ...well, it's supposed to be fun, isn't it? That's the point, isn't it? I mean, if I were going to get my knob out in front of my peers, I'd want either mood music or money, and preferably both. I'd want a little less of the gag-inducing public shamefest. But apparently, at Eton, you get what you pay for, and that means culture, class and extremely speedy ejaculation onto small pieces of confectionery.

Hat-tip to Spiritof1976 for pointing out that this means that this man has almost certainly played Soggy Biscuit.

White, 'well'-bred public schoolboys are frequently cultish, is what I'm trying to communicate here. They are a strange and self-referential race, trained from boyhood to administrate tenancies, shoot defenceless woodland creatures and come on cookies. Some of them are doubtless able to defy the expectations of their upbringing; but surely not every single one of the disproportionate hordes of the creatures currently running the banks, the civil service, the regions and most of the government, and if the Tories maintain their 20-point poll lead, soon to be running even more of the country? Does anyone else make this calculation and find themselves questioning the natural order of wealth and heredity, if it means that the men who still have almost all of the money and power are overwhelmingly the bizzare, fetishistic, feckless, greasy-haired oiks whose parents have paid hundreds of thousands for them to take part in Soggy Biscuit?

Interviewed by Decca Aitkenhead today, equalities commissioner Trevor Philips said:The task today is not to shout for black people or women, but to break the grip of white men who went to public school. And that's why I'm here.'

The photo above is a picture of the Bullingdon Club, Oxford University's most exclusive drinking society, open to all members of the swaggering upper classes who like to get drunk and smash things. These young gentlemen, already displaying early signs of Tory jowlage in 1987, include several prominent barristers and businessmen, one bank director, Our Beloved Shadow Prime Minister (top row, second from left) and Our Beloved Mayor (bottom right).

Oh, Boris. Oh, you've eaten the biscuit, I'm sure of it.

Look, we're not asking for much. We're not asking for rows of potatoes to be planted on the lawns of Balmoral, or for Buckingham Palace to be turned into the country's largest publicly-owned hostel for those made homeless by the credit crunch. Not yet, anyway. But can we have some semblance of sense? Can we have someone in charge who's not a developmentally damaged, cultishly co-opted, biscuit-eating over-privileged princeling? Someone who understands what poverty, what hopelessness, what bad luck might mean in a recession? Someone who spent their university career being involved in student activism, or - god forbid - doing their work, rather than joining elitist drinking clubs and throwing bread rolls at waiters? Look at those lads. Look at their little white wing collars. Look at the nonchalant smirks on their terrible pasty faces. They don't care what they do with power as long as it's them who get to have it. And by the time we remember how very dangerous that can be, it may well be too late.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Single parents, socialist feminism and the right to equal work

‘There will be no true liberation of women until we get rid of the assumption that it will always be women who do housework and look after children’ - Ellen Malos

It’s official: single parents are scroungers, and their time has come. Don’t listen to me, listen to the DWP, which plans to start compelling single parents (by which they mean, in 9 out of 10 cases, single mothers) back to work by the time their children are one year old. Our favourite DWP spokesmonkey declared before the Welfare Reform Bill’s first reading that ‘when the national effort is about a global downturn, we cannot afford to waste taxpayers' money on those who play the system’, repeating the patchwork fantasy that ‘work is the best way out of poverty’. Ahem. Not where I live, it’s not.

A report published only this week by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation attests to the spectacular hypocrisy of New Labour’s plan to ‘make work pay’ for the poorest and neediest whilst failing to take a stand over tax fraud committed by the super-rich. However much Purnell may claim that this is all for their own good, however much he may spit out the mantra that‘work is the best way out of poverty’ for single mothers and their families, he is belied by the fact that that the majority of children in poverty have at least one parent who works.

So there it is, in shiny think-tank black and white: without a decent living wage system, getting single mothers back into paid work will not increase quality of life for the poorest families, nor will it do anything for the nation’s children other than ensuring that they receive less primary care. Even those mothers who are lucky enough to find work - in a downturn where women are being made redundant at twice the rate of men - may find, like the distressed young woman who I met at Saturday’s Gender, Race and Class conference, that the only work available to them does not even cover the cost of childcare.

Let’s make one thing spectacularly, sparklingly clear: being the primary carer of a small child is work – hard work, unending work, work that can last an entire lifetime, work that defines the term ‘labour of love’. It’s work whether a man or a woman does it, although it continues to fall into the historic category of work that women contribute to the economy for free, ‘women’s work’, work undeserving of pay or professional respect. The fact that childcare isn’t recognised as work doesn’t make it any less valid as labour. But, not content with giving single parents with no other means of support a minimum of basic care rather than a liveable salary, the Welfare Reform Bill seeks to force single parents into extra, paid work, work that will not even raise their standard of living above the poverty threshold. That’s extra, paid work that isn’t actually available at the moment, in case you’d forgotten.

This system has already been tested out in the United States. ‘Workfare’ was implemented across the pond in the boomtimes – and even in conditions of high employment, as speakers at Saturday’s conference confirmed, it has contributed to a staggering increase in child poverty and in general poverty, creating what history will doubtless term the new American underclass. But that won’t stop wee Jimmy from trying to shoehorn a similar scheme into policy over here, not even when – as reported on this blog last week – many of the friends he was planning to give Workfare contracts to are already muttering their dissent.

There are, in fact, plenty of jobs available in the UK right now– it’s just that a great deal of them don’t earn any money, for no reason other than the fact that they never have before. The wisdom that we’ve all received is that if a job isn’t paid it must not contribute to the economy – but hold on a second. Since when did the raising of children not contribute to the economy? In Capital, Marx himself comments on the attitude of capitalism to the unpaid work of sustainance and reproduction done mostly by women:

‘The maintenance and reproduction of the working class is, and must ever be, a necessary condition to the reproduction of capital. But the capitalist may safely leave its fulfilment to the labourer’s instincts of self-preservation and propagation. All the capitalist cares for is to reduce the labourer’s individual consumption as far as possible to what is necessary.’

A hundred and fifty years after those words were written, the British government is setting out to reduce the individual consumption of domestic labourers to almost nothing, by withdrawing automatic benefits entitlement after their children are one year old. Domestic labour, since it does not turn over an immediately bankable profit, and since it is done overwhelmingly by mothers, is not considered real work – domestic labourers must therefore take on a second job to support themselves. If they refuse to do so for any reason, they are ‘playing the system’ and must be punished.

This state affairs was commonplace two hundred years ago, when single, unsupported mothers also faced destitution if they did not or could not take on extra work. The difference now is the level of public hatred reserved for single mothers on benefits. Stories of young mothers 'playing the system' in order to be housed in mysteriously palatial council accommodation have been stock red-top fodder for years, but the bile directed at single parents who receive state support has never been more vocal than it is now - just look at the hatred directed at Karen Matthews, not for the real crime of false imprisonment, but for the social transgression of daring to live in poverty as a single mother with no paid employment. This manufactured public hatred directly serves the interest of a capitalist society predicated on women's unpaid work, and yes, these are socialist knickers I have on today, what of it?

The domestic labourers (and I shall personally stamp on the shrivelled gonads of the next person who even whispers the hateful word 'housewife', which Greer rightly equates with the term ‘yard-nigger’) who will be affected by this new law, of course, will only be the poorest. Women who do not work outside the home, but who do not need government support because they are independently rich or because they have a partner who works, are not considered to be ‘playing the system’, not by the DWP and certainly not by the Evening Standard group– even though the only difference between these women and single mothers on benefits is the good fortune to be born with money or to marry it. If the world were a late-night tube carriage, the social hypocrisy of the British state would be fumblingly revealing itself in the corner.

In this hyper-capitalist world, power and respect are afforded to those who earn wages – are distributed, in fact, in the form of wages. By paying a decent, liveable salary to those women and men who have primary responsibility for a child – a wage which they can spend on maintaining themselves out of paid work, or on decent childcare whilst they perform alternative work - we might well fix not only the nation’s soaring unemployment crisis, but go some way towards erasing the breathtaking poverty and hypocrisy of our socially bankrupt self-organisation. Hey, I’m 22, so I’m bloody well allowed to dream about social justice in vivid technicolour. But if the idea of radical reform sticks in your throat, there are other solutions. As columnist Deborah Orr noted in The Independent today:

The Rowntree Foundation does not make radical demands in its report…although it does warn that in the long-term only improved job quality and sustainability will solve the problem. It merely suggests that a larger sum than the Government has already ear-marked must be made available if the catastrophe of yet another generation born and raised in poverty is to be avoided. That sum is £4.2bn a year in benefits and tax credits above its present plans, and is needless to say a fraction of the money that has been spent so far on bailing out the banks.

Call me Captain State The Obvious, but we live in a society which prioritises the interests of the rich over the general good of the labouring classes, a system which, not incidentally, relies on the unpaid labour of women to sustain itself. Because we’ve grown up with it, it seems normal, even justified – and for this reason, a government which feels justified in requiring single parents to work twice as hard as anybody else merely to qualify for the minimum level of benefits merits only sustained criticism rather than rioting in the streets - although watch this space for news on that front. To get you started, Gingerbread, the lone parents' forum, have organised an online write-to-your-MP skiffle, and you don't even need to be a member of the SWP to join. Because, fundamentally, this isn't just about socialism. It isn't even about feminism. It's about human decency, and it's about justice.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Any utterance unaimed will be disclaimed, will be maimed...

How I do hate leaving a week between updates on this blog. Sorry for the lack of activity, my darlings, pressing family matters intervened in an already hectic schedule and production day on The Magazine Wot Pays Me is looming. I'm cooking up something suitably bile-filled about motherhood, welfare reform and other achingly sexy subjects, though. It'll be just what you've always wanted, I absolutely and completely promise. *grin*

In lieu of actual content, here's something I think is vitally, viscerally important: Coded Language by Saul Williams, who is a prince amongst poet-warriors even when he isn't being mixed by Trent Rezner. Listen to it, then read the lyrics, then listen to it again; it's like your soul sinking into a deep, hot bath after wandering in a cold field of bullshit all night.

ION: I just saw Susie Orbach speak about her new book. Much as I hate to be unsisterly, it was all kinds of bollocks, don't bother.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Mental illness: the last great taboo?

For days, now, I’ve been trying to put down in words what I feel about the Christine Laird case, the civil case currently about to create a legal precedent for suing one’s employees if they dare not to reveal that they have a history of mental ill health. I work in mental health, and what I’ve been hearing everywhere is – well, this is a complicated case. Well, if it becomes legally plausible to demand that people declare their mental health history on job applications, hopefully that’ll encourage more people to come out of the closet rather than persuading more of us to lie. Well, maybe she wasn’t doing a very good job anyway.

And I am here to say: I have absolutely no interest in what sort of job Christine Laird was doing. She’s not being sued for doing her job badly, she’s being sued for being a closeted mentalist, something that, in this culture, she had every reason to be. The simple fact is that, faced with a very real prejudice against people with past or present mental health difficulty in the workplace – faced with a situation in which only 40% of employers will even consider employing someone with a mental health difficulty, and only 24% of people with chronic mental health conditions are in work – most of us lie.

I’ve lied. I’ve lied on most of the couple of hundred job and internship applications I’ve filled out in the past year, and I’ve not been invited to interview with any of those where I’ve been honest, not even when I was working in another capacity for the company at the time. If Christine Laird had been hiding the fact that she had a heart condition in order to get a job she was qualified for, would she be being sued now? Doubtful. Current disability laws do not protect workers like Christine Laird who choose to hide mental health conditions for fear of facing prejudice. This means, in my not-so-humble-this-evening, that current disability laws are a steaming crock.

Do I think that being a mentalist is something to be proud of? Of itself, no; I’m no more proud to have mental health problems than I am proud to be short, or that I have straight hair, or a high IQ, or that I’m white. These are inalienable things about me, borne of nature and of nurture. In the same way, in any sane society, being gay shouldn’t have to be something to be ‘proud of’ – but the fact is that living life honestly and successfully as a person of non-heterosexual orientation in this 21st-century world is still a challenge, and one that every queer person who is honest about their sexuality should justly respect themselves for. In just the same way, people struggling with the daily challenges of mental health difficulty should be able to feel proud of themselves for doing so, rather than think of themselves as the state and their families too often characterise them – as dangerous criminals.

The threat of further legal sanctions against the mentally ill frightens and angers me. Ten times I’ve started this post, my fingers hovering above the keys over the phrase ‘I’m not proud to have mental health difficulties’. And I can’t do it.

Because I am proud.

I’m sorry, mum. I’m sorry, dad. I know that in begging me to hide my condition you only want what’s best for me. I know that the way I was born has caused you a great deal of grief, and for that I’m sad and I’m sorry, but I’m not ashamed. In fact, I’m proud as anything to be sitting here today, alive and thriving and dealing both with my mental health problems and the stigma that they have won me, as I ever was when I got my degree, or when I was awarded the top mark in GCSE English in the UK. It’s been a long, hard road, and I’m sad and I’m sorry, but I’m not ashamed.

And if I could ever be honest in a job interview, here’s what I’d tell them. I’m the best candidate you’ll see today, not just because of my creativity or my academic record, but because the challenges I face daily have made me a stronger, better person. I learned more about the world and how to live in it over the 9 months I spent as a psychiatric inpatient than I did in the three years of university that followed. I know about waiting, and frustration, and I know what it’s like to have your dreams ripped away from you and to have to build them again and build them better. In order to make full use of my talents, you may well have to adjust your prejudices as well as your working practices. You may have to allow me time to deal with my condition; you may have to trust me to work to the best of my ability without the marker of 9-5 attendance or constant insufferable smiliness, but you’ll know that every bit of work you’ll get out of it will be my best, because I have something to prove.

I look at the amazing young people I’ve befriended over the last few years, and I see how powerful and beautiful they are, how they constantly support and buoy one another up, despite the fact that in many cases their families and employers don’t or won’t understand what their lives are really like. I look at these young men and women, and I remember the ones we lost too young, and I want more for us than this – more for us than a life begging for treatment that isn’t provided and understanding that isn’t forthcoming and quarter that isn’t given. I look at these beautiful young people, and I worry for their futures. I know that people just like us, people with mental health problems, are today’s disenfranchised, making up 72% of the prison population and a large percentage of the homeless and unemployed. I know that we are barred from holding parliamentary office, shunned by employers and stereotyped by the media. If I have a child, the chances are that with my genetics that child will grow up facing some of the same difficulties that I face. I want my children to have the same opportunities and life chances as anyone else.

No, I will not just buck up. I won’t ‘just buck up’, because I can’t. I’m not a crook, or a scrounger, or lazy; in fact, the nature of my disorder means that I’m far more likely to push myself too hard and work myself into a crash. But I’m sick of being told to just get on with things and be a normal person, because I know that that’s not an option for me and mine, not within definitions of ‘normal’ as they currently stand. I won't buck up, and I won't shut up, because it’s those definitions that need to change, not me – I’m proud to say that I make changes every day to secure my own mental health and continue as a functioning person, and pretending that it’s otherwise is unhelpful, it’s massively unhelpful to me and it’s unhelpful to society. I want to live a long, successful life, and when I’m in my fifties and sixties I want to be saying to the young men and women entering my industry: I did this with a mental health problem, and because of that, for you, it’ll be a little bit easier.

Our laws, our employment structure and our attitudes to mental ill health need to change, and they need to change now. We can no longer afford to keep the millions of citizens with mental health difficulties largely disenfranchised, disaffected, poorly treated and out of useful work adapted to their needs. We can’t afford it morally, and these days we certainly can’t afford it financially. I’m not satisfied with the welfare reform bill being quietly swept under the table; I’m not satisfied with Employment and Support Allowance, with Personal Care Budgets. I will not be satisfied until people with mental health difficulties have the same rights to live and love and work and receive care as people whose needs are different.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Purnell's welfare plan 'close to collapse'!


Sucks to be you, Jimmy boy!

'Responding to warnings that his reforms will not work without major changes, James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, has abandoned plans to announce the preferred bidders for the multi-million-pound contracts this week. This follows demands from the firms involved for hundreds of millions more in "up-front" cash. A crisis meeting between top department officials and the bidding companies was cancelled on Friday after Whitehall announced a "short pause" in the tendering process.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it had been called off "because of the snow", but one company manager involved remarked: "The most telling thing is that no new date was set."'

No, this doesn't mean we can relax. No, I'm not going to get off this man's back or stop pressing for liberal reforms in any small way that I can, not until I see a radical new deal on the table for the sick, disabled and long-term unemployed coupled with a requirement that work pay a living wage. Yes! Yes, alright, I'm a goddamn socialist! What are you looking at? *twitches*

After months of trying to feed six people on two minimum-wage salaries, after months hunting for jobs that don't exist in a market that mistrusts the physically and mentally impaired, my household has decided to beg the government for our dinners again. I've spent the last two hours filling in online benefits claims forms for my severely disabled partner, and no, the support isn't adequate and no, no I'm not happy about that. But I'm going to sleep a little bit sounder tonight knowing that there's less chance that my lamb of a lover is going to have to hobble on his poor leg to stack shelves in ASDA for less than half the minimum wage.

Thanks to everyone who commented on the welfare posts; keep on propagating, guys. It's too early to let our guard down just yet.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

National Take a Photo of a Police Officer Day 2009: stand up for citizen journalism!

Set to become law on the 16th of February in the UK, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 amends the Terrorism Act 2000 regarding offences relating to information about members of armed forces, a member of the intelligence services, or a police officer. Laws are being introduced that allow for the arrest - and fining, and imprisonment for up to ten years - of anyone who takes pictures of officers 'likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism'.

The law is expected to increase the anti-terrorism powers used today by police officers to stop photographers, including press photographers, from taking pictures in public places.

Does anyone else have a problem with this?

Picture, if you will, a protest, demonstration or piece of civil action. These can be inconvenient places for the government. A bunch of riot police wade in with batons, and a shocked bystander takes out her camera to preserve the evidence. The right of citizens to maintain sousveillance over their own police and military systems is vital to any healthy democracy.

So let's take back the gaze, if only for ten more days.

Starting from today, take a picture of a police officer on your phone or your camera and post it to this facebook group or email me at the address on the left. Photos will be collated (with permission) here and at participating blogs - if you don't want your photo to be included there, or if you'd like to remain anonymous, just email me.

To make it even easier for you, photos of police officers still count if the participating copper happens to be your mum, sister, school chum, etc. Standing laws mean that we can't take pictures of these people anywhere where they have 'a reasonable expectation of privacy': we're here to say that we don't think police should be expected to enjoy privacy whilst nominally protecting the peace.

Join in, tell your friends! The revolution will not be televised, but it WILL be on facebook.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Via the Ministry of Truth: 'British Wildcats' are a front for the BNP

That brilliant spark in the darkness of the blogosphere, MiniTrue, has done some digging and proved that the British Wildcats - the group massing behind the 'British Jobs for British Workers' union-rejected strikes going on across the UK this week - are an official or semi-official BNP-affiliated group.

The proof? Here.

The BNP aren't just infiltrating the strikes. They're claiming them for their own and touting themselves as organisers and future organisers.

The British public needs to know that fascists are organising, or claiming to organise, action in our name, in order to divert public anger away from the business leaders who bear responsibility for growing unemployment and onto innocent immigrant groups. Spread, propagate, disseminate: let the internet do what it's best at. Please. Put this on your blog, put it on facebook, tell your friends, your neighbors, your cats.

Because - sing along! - we'll never rest again until every Nazi dies.

Monday, 2 February 2009

The politics of beauty are constrained.

In a friendly meeting with fellow conspirators this evening, we discussed over coffee and snow-spattered mutterings the viability and ethics of our favourite Lib Dem and Labour MPs and PPCs. This is one of the many topics upon which I am both knowledgeable and possess an opinion, and although I was the youngest, least famous and most currently chest-infected person there, I felt that I had a right to be present, to listen and to be heard. I was amongst allies, or potential allies.

And then it all turned sour.

I have met Stella Creasy, Labour's PPC for Walthamstow, and I respect her as a politician and as a feminist, the context of our second meeting having been the Abortion Rights parliamentary rallies over the summer. Were I a Walthamstovian, I'd vote for her; were I sitting next to her on a train, I'd feel she was someone with whom I could have a pleasant conversation. I was about to voice one or all of these thoughts, when the Labour party veteran next to me, a man in his fifties, said, in that oh-so knowing way -

'Well, yes, but she's a bit glamorous to be a credible PPC, isn't she?'

Aside from her many, many political and personal qualifications, Stella Creasy happens to be young, thin, blonde, and intensely pretty. Click here to see just how pretty. In fact, she looks a bit like one of those leggy popular girls who used to tease me at school, which is why I took extra special care to pay attention to what she had to say before passing judgement. And that alone is enough for her to be dismissed out of hand by the very people who she ought to count as the home guard, purely on the basis of her appearance.

It offended me. If you don't understand why it offended me, imagine someone saying of David Lammy, the black, well-dressed MP for Tottenham, 'yes, but he's a bit too bling to take seriously, isn't he? A bit too gangsta?'

Stella Creasy may look like the stereotype of an airhead bimbo, but she's not one, any more than David Lammy is a drug-runner, and to infer in that manner that her physical appearance affects her ability to do her job is deeply problematic. But when I opened my mouth to complain, the Labour old-timer in question proceeded to change the subject and speak over me to a couple of the other men in the group. I looked over at the only other woman there, who met my eyes. And shrugged. Resignedly.

It might seem small, but for me that exchange coloured the entire evening. I'm on a cocktail of antibiotics and lacked the energy even to be angry; I was simply upset. Upset that nominally liberal allies felt comfortable as part of the system which continues to judge any professional woman for her looks more than her abilities. I stumbled over my words; my arguments petered out. Instead of engaging, I listened. I let others claim for themselves ideas that I'd shared with them earlier, and made no murmur. I felt - what's the term? Oh, yes. Put in my place.

Women in politics, as in all professions, are judged on their looks first, last and foremost- whether they're Stella Creasy, Jacqui Smith or Mo Mowlam. I'm not even going to revisit the Jacqui Smith's Cleavage Nontroversy, because it depresses me too damn much - I'm simply going to point you in the direction of a keynote article in the pilot of Ian Dale's latest project, Total Politics, asking if British political ladies are looking too frumpy, not frumpy enough, or just right.

If you'll notice, the woman against whom all British women politicians are measured and found wanting in those all important fashion stakes in the very first line is Rachida Dati, pictured above ('The French Justice Minister wore a stunning, long midnight-blue gown split to the thigh made for her by the house of Dior at a recent Elysée Palace banquet').

That Rachida Dati. The same Rachida Dati who, despite being that rare thing - sartorially and therefore politically acceptable - was last month raked over the spitting coals of almost every major world newspaper for having the temerity to go back to work five days after giving birth. The same Rachida Dati who was pressured to resign just twenty days later, following Sarkozy's embarrassment at the implication that he might be the father of Dati's child. The same Rachida Dati whose wardrobe could not protect her from the limitations of womanhood in the boys' game of European politics.

Can we ever win?

In response to theyorkshergob and to this thread over at Liberal Conspiracy, I've turned off pre-moderated comments on this blog. It's not good to be a control freak, so I shan't be one any longer - comments should now appear immediately. Play nice, guys.