Project 84: Why suicide is a political issue

Has a charity campaign ever carried such a powerful punch as Project 84? Indeed, one would struggle to name an artistic statement in any medium which bears such a profound weight. All of humanity’s deepest emotions – sadness, love, beauty, remorse, loss – are packaged into the 84 fully clothed male figures standing at the edges of the rooftops of the ITV building in London, as commissioned by CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably. [Read more…]

Men, women and prison: A study in gender

A couple of weeks ago, an episode of Ed Miliband’s podcast, Reasons to be Cheerful, was devoted to penal policy and prison reform. It features a fascinating interview with Nils Öberg, director general of the Swedish prison and probation service who makes a string of important observations about the Nordic approach to imprisonment. In a nutshell, in Sweden prison is only ever used as a last resort, is focused upon rehabilitation, particularly addressing social, educational, psychological and addiction problems of prisoners. The Swedish reoffending rate is around 30% after three years post-release.  In the UK it is 46% after just one year, and that is despite Swedish prisons being disproportionately filled with the most damaged, violent and recidivist offenders in their system. [Read more…]

How BBC Question Time let down the victims of rape and the wrongly accused alike

Watching BBC Question Time last night was a depressing experience. Yes, watching BBC Question Time is always a depressing experience, but on this occasion more so than ever, as a significant portion of the show was given over to a question about rape prosecutions.

The context is the high-profile collapse of several rape & sexual offence trials amid apparently systematic failures by limbs of the justice system to properly collect, handle and disclose evidence.

“Given recent revelations about a string of innocent men being accused of rape and almost losing their liberty, is it time to name and shame false accusers?”

I will come on to why this question was profoundly and offensively ill-chosen, but the really dispiriting element to this was the widespread misunderstandings of the nature of sexual assault prosecutions and false allegations among the audience and – with a couple of notable exceptions – the panel, so it seems worthwhile to revisit a few of the problems with the myths and the discourse. [Read more…]

Invisible sons revisited: How boys got forgotten in a debate about boys

Last week, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, (for whom I have a lot of time and respect, incidentally) gave an interview to the Spectator magazine about the underperformance of white working class boys in education. It was a bit of a dog’s breakfast, to be blunt, for reasons I have spelled out in a piece over on politics.co.uk.

Do please go have a read, but in summary, she got off on the wrong foot by implying the underachievement of boys was a consequence of a focus on girls and ethnic minorities, as if it were a zero sum game, which is a divisive and inaccurate way to think about the issue. It’s also politically clumsy and counter-productive, as it invites a reactionary response from government of purporting to help (white) boys by cutting back on support to girls and BME kids. Marginalised boys and their advocates need all the friends they can get, and it is really not helpful to suggest that providing them with greater support and attention is contrary to the interests of marginalised girls or BME communities. Recognising this is gender-inclusive politics in a nutshell.  [Read more…]

Yes, child grooming scandals are a hate crime and here’s why

The past few weekends have seen Labour MPs engaged in a pretty unseemly ideological schism over child grooming scandals in (most recently) Newcastle, and before that Rotherham, Rochdale and elsewhere.

It was kicked off by Sarah Champion who wrote an irredeemably dreadful piece for the Sun that spoke in such clumsily broad-brush terms about ‘Pakistani men’ that it was perceived (rightly or wrongly) as outright racism and this cost her a frontbench role as shadow Equalities minister.  Any thoughts that she’d been misrepresented or misquoted by the sleazy tabloid were dispelled a week later when she gave an interview to the Times that saw her digging deeper into the same trench.

On Saturday, the constituency MP for Newcastle upon Tyne, Chi Onwurah, responded directly with a piece in the Guardian that was uncompromising in its assertion that race has nothing to do with the grooming gangs, whose members are motivated by misogyny, not racism, she wrote.

If my Twitter feed was anything to go by, her piece was not exactly well received, even by left-leaning liberals who might have been minded to agree with her general stance. Her opening sentence in particular was unfathomably crass and ill-advised, asking: “What’s worse, rape or racism?”

The arguments around it put me in mind of a rambling chat we had in the comments section of another post here, about the meaning and definition of hate crime, and I thought it might be worth unpicking how I see all of this.   [Read more…]

Male victims, the CPS and the latest chapter in the saga

[The first few hundred words here are something of a recap, feel free to jump ahead if you know the story!]

 

Just a little over two years ago, the Crown Prosecution Service published their annual review of their performance in prosecuting crimes of violence against women and girls for the year 2014/15.

According to the press release, dutifully reprinted by pretty much all mainstream media, there had been over 107,000 violent crimes against women and girls that year, including rape, domestic violence, child abuse and modern slavery.

Buried in the small print, however, was a curious detail. Around one in six of these victims were neither women nor girls. They were men and boys. Somewhere around 17,000 male survivors of sexual and intimate crimes were being officially designated by the UK authorities as “women and girls.”

To cut a long story short, I phoned a few friends and between us we corralled around 30 charity leaders, writers, academics and activists and we co-signed a letter to the Guardian calling on the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders,

“…and all public bodies to affirm their commitment to addressing and eliminating intimate violence against human beings of any gender and to take care not to compromise the dignity and public understanding of any survivors.”

[Read more…]

Jeremy Corbyn and the Bonfire of the Cynics

While chaos unfolds in Westminster, on social media there has been merry carnival of mea culping, told-you-soing and book-eating in the wake of the sensational general election result last week. No, Labour did not win a majority or become largest party, but they did effectively bring down a government, leave an apparently unassailable Prime Minister utterly toothless and quite possibly revolutionised British politics for a generation to come.

Central to this there has been a lot of talk about who has been proven right or wrong. Someone kindly intervened in one of my own mini Twitter spats to describe me as “someone who was right all along.”

It’s never my style to wave away a compliment, so I let it ride, but it didn’t feel true. I’m not someone who was right all along, at least not in the most basic sense. Over recent months there were literally a few handfuls of furiously loyal Corbyn supporters who insisted that the polls were wrong, that Corbyn would storm an election campaign, and if the Tories called an election they would get stuffed. Those people were very few in number and I was not among them. Most of Corbyn’s people were not among them, truth be told. If I’m honest, when the election was called my best guess was that Labour would get trounced and the best foreseeable outcome would be if Jeremy Corbyn put up a good enough showing to survive and fight another day. So simply on cold hard numbers psephology, I was just as wrong as the most ardent Corbyn critic.

However, there is another reading of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ on which I am proud to have landed jammy-side up, while Corbyn’s critics have faceplanted into the proverbial from a grand height. It is about the very rules of the game that I’m describing – the psephology, the electoral calculation, the punditry, the prediction, the polls-chasing.

Here is a grand truth which lies at the heart of Corbyn’s success, which the mainstream political media class entirely failed to understand and – based on the comment pieces and social media mutterings of the weekend – still entirely fails to understand.  It comes down to a dictum which in my view could reasonably be called the central premise of Corbynism:

We do not say what we say because it plays well in the polls and we do not cynically advocate policies for electoral advantage. We do what do because we believe it is the right thing to do.

[Read more…]

From the Home Office to the Independent: crying out for gender-inclusive policy

This week has offered us a couple of vivid illustrations of why gender-inclusive policies are so desperately and urgently needed across the political and media strata.

Just to put what follows in context, please consider the story that has dominated headline news for the past four weeks. At the latest count, police are investigating allegations of child sexual abuse by 83 suspects with involvement in 98 football clubs, on the basis of reports made by (or about) more than 350 men.  One might think this alone would be enough to remind officials and commentators that boys and men are far from immune to crimes of intimate violence. On top of the raw numbers, evidence is mounting that the sport as a whole was steeped in a culture of (at best) systematic indifference to the welfare and human dignity of boys and young men in their charge. [Read more…]

Introducing the Men and Boys Coalition: How the British men’s sector has come of age

Four years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a piece in the Guardian asking whether International Men’s Day could become the seeds of a new kind of movement for male gender politics. I described attending the National Conference on Men and Boys, where I found a diverse range of organisations and individuals with different specialities and interests but all committed to developing constructive and progressive solutions to problems affecting boys and men.

It seems like it has been a long, long four years, but I am proud and delighted to tell you that today the rarefied halls of the Houses of Parliament will be the venue for the launch of a brand new Men and Boys’ Coalition, representing over 50 of the UK’s leading charities, academics and campaigners in the field of men and boys’ welfare. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that this is the day when a new kind of men’s movement comes of age. [Read more…]