As the child of a devout protestant family, I find Theresa May’s beliefs hard to swallow

First published by The Independent, 28th November 2016

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In a rare interview with the Sunday Times, our Prime Minister Theresa May discussed her personal faith and the impact her beliefs have on the decisions she makes as a politician. May described herself as a “practicing member of the Church of England” and said that her faith in God “lies behind what I do”.

To me, Theresa May’s interview not only betrays her eye-watering arrogance, but also her wilful misinterpretation of the core values of Christianity. Sure, the Old Testament might be full of murder and barbarism and “don’t cut your hair at the sides of your head” (Leviticus 19:27), but the teachings of Jesus are the absolute focal point of Christian belief.

Jesus loved the poor, the dispossessed, and those who found themselves on the fringes of society. He dined with the hated tax collector and refused to recognise the divide between Jews and the Samaritans. For Christians, he is the ultimate symbol of humility, compassion and love.

Unfortunately, Theresa May doesn’t seem to have read her New Testament very closely. She has almost always voted for the use of UK forces in combat operations overseas. She was in favour of sending UK troops into Iraq in 2003, and the coalition’s military intervention and the ensuing civil war has cost more than 187,000 documented civilian lives. Instead of being the military leader that many Jews had expected, Jesus is consistently described as a man of peace. I doubt he’d be impressed by the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq.

Theresa May backs away from ‘workers on company boards’ plan

In December 2014, Theresa May voted against scrapping the hated Bedroom Tax, a failed Tory policy that has penalised some of Britain’s most vulnerable families. Research carried out by the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) found that 75 per cent of those affected by the Bedroom Tax were forced to cut back on the most basic necessity – food. The Bedroom Tax has been used to penalise women living in fear of violent ex-partners and those struggling after terrible bereavements. Perhaps Theresa May believes that because “the poor are blessed and in line to inherit the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), they can be trampled and degraded by Tory policy here on earth.

April 2016 saw May vote against allowing 3,000 unaccompanied children to find a safe haven in the UK. Jesus said something about how little children should come unto him because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14), but maybe Theresa May didn’t get the memo?

May voted to repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act in May of this year, because basic human rights are just a little too inconvenient when it comes to deporting people. She’s never been a big fan of the HRA, even making a misleading statement at the Conservative Party Conference in 2011, alleging that a man couldn’t be deported because of his pet cat. This turned out not to be true, but it managed to get the right wing press frothing at the mouth anyway. Christians are taught to “love their neighbours” (Mark 12:31), but perhaps Theresa May believes that increasing deportations is a form of “love”.

I’m not personally a believer, but I was brought up in a Christian household. I attended a United Reformed Church until I was 18, and the sermons tended to focus on “doing unto others as you would be done unto” and the importance of helping those in need, even when it’s personally inconvenient to do so.

If Jesus were here, in Theresa May’s Britain, he’d be helping the 3,500 people sleeping rough this winter. This is double the number counted in 2010, caused in no small part by Tory policy. He’d be trying to make a difference to the lives of Britain’s most vulnerable people – the vulnerable women detained in Yarl’s Wood without charge (many have suffered rape and torture in their home countries), and the one in four children who live in poverty, cold and hungry in one of the most wealthy nations on earth. He’d probably have had his benefits sanctioned more than once.

May has inherited an austere and heartless government, but the Autumn Statement under her leadership shows little commitment to change. If Theresa May is a Christian, I can only assume that her interpretation of scripture is very, very loose.

Dig deeper into Philip Hammond’s claims about austerity and ‘Jams’ in the Autumn Statement and you’ll find the dark truth

First published by The Independent, 23rd November 2016

After delivering his first Autumn Statement, the Chancellor Philip Hammond pronounced dead the governmental tradition of presenting an Autumn Statement. And consigned to the scrapheap along with that is George Osborne’s promise to eradicate Britain’s deficit by 2020, a significant climbdown for the Tory administration.

Hammond described his budget as “responding to the challenges faced by Britain” and “providing help to those who need it”, but little evidence surfaced of an intention to roll back harmful austerity measures. He outlined the government’s commitment to assisting “Jams” (families who are “just about managing”), but failed to address the concerns of the 3.9 million people in Britain who live in persistent poverty.

In perhaps the most blatant display of ideological ham-fistery, Hammond announced that the Tory commitment to austerity under former Prime Minister David Cameron demonstrated that “controlling public spending is compatible with providing world-class public services and social improvement”.

I wonder if the families of those who have died after being found “fit for work” would agree. The DWP’s own statics show that nearly 90 people died every month between December 2011 and February 2014 after their ESA benefit stopped because a work capability assessment found them able to work.

And I’m sure those communities who have seen their libraries and Post Offices and Sure Start centres close would equate cuts with “world-class public services”. The 81 per cent of women aged 16-30 who said that Jobcentre Plus did not help them find work, and the 59 per cent of women who described attending the job centre as a “humiliating” experience in research published by Young Women’s Trust this week, would surely also be inclined to agree.

The Tories’ gleeful announcement that unemployment is at an 11-year low might sound impressive, if the reasons for it aren’t explored too deeply. There has been a substantial increase in unstable, low-skilled and insecure jobs in Tory Britain, with around 900,000 UK workers now on zero-hours contracts. Many people are declaring themselves self-employed – and therefore on paper counting as “in work” – after encouragement from job centres, but not actually bringing in any work. Leaked internal emails from the DWP showing that staff are encouraged to use “the hassle factor” to make the process of claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance so difficult and frustrating that people give up also give us a glimpse into why so few are now no longer “officially unemployed”.

It’s not all bad news, though, with letting agents banned from charging tenants rather than landlords cripplingly high fees and a reduction in the rate at which benefits are withdrawn from people when they get back into work. However, Theresa May’s administration still seems frighteningly out of touch with the concerns of people on low incomes. Scrapping the hated Bedroom Tax would have been a great start, but Hammond preferred to focus on increasing the number of prison officers and investing in 5G.

The National Living Wage is rising to £7.50 from April next year, but as Dr Carole Easton commented today, by extending the National Living Wage to under-25s, the government could vastly improve the lives of young people and help them live independently. Easton also remarked that “in supporting those who are ‘just about managing’, the government must not lose sight of young people who are just plain struggling”.

The Autumn Statement contained plenty of Labour-directed jibes and the traditional blame of the last Labour administration for Britain’s deficit (not the banks, never the banks), greeted by howls, jeers and muffled grunting. You really could be forgiven for thinking that the budget was being delivered in a posh zoo.

Although Hammond pledged £2.3bn in infrastructure for areas with a high demand for new homes, he also guaranteed an extension of Thatcher’s disastrous Right to Buy scheme. If there’s anything Britain needs it’s the selling-off of more crucial social housing stock, right? Additionally, cash has been promised for new grammar schools, the Tories’ favourite way of creaming off top candidates from state schools and consigning other children in the state sector to failure before they’re even 12 years old.

Hammond says he’s creating “an economy that works for everyone” but his promise to maintain a commitment to fiscal discipline will not inspire hope in those whose lives have been broken by previous austerity measures. Hammond may think he is making concessions by helping “Jams”, but this helping hand does not reach nearly far enough.

Fear and humiliation at the job centre

First published by Open Democracy, 23rd November 2016

The lack of self-confidence among young women looking for a job in Britain, revealed in the ‘Work It Out’ report, is a phenomenon engineered by social and cultural factors.

Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake provides a heart-wrenching exposé of the cruelty that bubbles beneath the surface of the Department of Work and Pensions’ dealings with some of Britain’s most vulnerable people. New research published on 15th November shows that Jobcentre Plus is currently failing Britain’s young women on a massive scale.

Young Women’s Trust, an organisation dedicated to supporting women between 16 and 30, has put together a report condemning job centres across the country for being utterly ineffectual in help young women to re-enter the workplace. The report found that only 19 per cent of young women who visited a job centre in the last year said that it helped them find a job, and 44 per cent said that Jobcentre Plus hadn’t given them useful information about work and training opportunities, compared to 34 per cent of young men surveyed.

Young Women’s Trust’s ‘Work It Out’ report sheds light on a situation where job centres are actually driving young women away and alienating them from claiming the temporary financial support that they need.

The clue really should be in the name. A ‘job centre’ should be a place where people are aided in their search to find a job, and prepared for employment with opportunities to hone and develop their skills. This is clearly not the case, when the majority of young women are having overwhelmingly negative experiences of Jobcentre Plus.

Hattie is a 24-year-old writer and illustrator. She’s been in and out of employment since graduating in 2013 and after doing two full-time unpaid internships, signed on at the job centre. She says:

“I was encouraged to apply for a job every day, even if it didn’t fit with what I wanted from a role. Seemingly they cared more about getting me off their books as soon as possible than what I needed from a job. Eventually they decided that I should apply for a couple of Christmas temp jobs to earn money, and I took a job at GAME. It didn’t guarantee me any hours and I usually had one four-hour shift a week, earning me less than £30. My mental health suffered immensely and I ended up quitting. As far as I’m aware, if you quit a role given to you by the Job Centre then you can’t go back on to claim JSA. The following month I had to survive on money given to me over the holidays, and I looked and felt horrendous due to poor diet and had little to no drive to even leave the house because I didn’t have any money.”

Dr Carole Easton, Chief Executive of Young Women’s Trust, says: “Young women are more likely to be out of education, employment and training than young men.  They want to work and be financially independent but they aren’t getting the necessary support. It is clear from this report that job centres need to change.”

Abby* is 23 and had to leave her paid job at a charity because they failed to make reasonable adjustments to help mitigate the effects of her health problems. She told me that the job centre ‘terrifies’ her. She says:

“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve burst into tears in the job centre. I went in with the attitude that it might be hard, but that they were there to help. This is not true, and it is only by preparing for a horrible experience each time I have to go I have been able to protect myself as best I can. I have had experience of three different job centres.

They were totally useless when it came to accommodating my disabilities, both in terms of helping me find appropriate work, and how to assist me when I was physically there. My disabilities mean I need to take lifts rather than stairs, and I have constantly been questioned and told I am ‘raising suspicions’ when needing to use the lift (where you have to be accompanied by a member of staff). When I’ve arrived early (because if you’re late you will be sanctioned) I am told I am not allowed to be there because I’m too early. And so they make you wait outside the building, regardless of the weather and regardless of your disability.”

Abby’s experience is not unique. With 59 per cent of young women surveyed describing their time at the job centre as ‘humiliating, and 68 per cent calling it a ‘stressful’ experience, it’s evident that Jobcentre Plus is not fulfilling its role. No one should go to a government branch, in need of help, and be humiliated or treated with base disrespect.

It’s clear from the testimonials of hundreds of benefit claimants and from anonymous information given by DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) employees that due to the measures introduced under Iain Duncan Smith, Jobcentre Plus staff are actively encouraged to impose financial penalties on those claiming support.

The PCS union produced documents in 2015 that show Jobcentre Plus managers threatening staff who failed to instigate enough sanctions with performance reviews, or denying them performance-based pay raises. Regardless of whether financial sanctions are appropriate, staff are pushed to approve them. There’s also evidence that staff are encouraged to use ‘the hassle factor’ to make claiming benefits so difficult and frustrating that people are forced off the DWP’s books. These tactics are corrupt, disingenuous and bullying, and have no place in a civilised, humane Britain.

In terms of the gender imbalance found in the Young Women’s Trust’s ‘Work It Out’ report, female respondents expressed higher levels of self-doubt. 54 per cent of young women said they lacked self-confidence, while only 34 per cent of young men reported the same. Young men were markedly more confident when applying for a new job than young women, and more young women said that they would be put off applying for a job if they didn’t meet all the criteria than the young men surveyed.

The so-called ‘confidence gap’ is likely to be a product of living in a stubbornly unequal society, where women are still viewed as ‘other’ and their work is demonstrated to be less financially valuable, due to the existence of the pay gap.

In the UK, the pay gap currently stands at 13.9% for full-time workers, meaning that women will in theory be working from 10th November until the end of 2016, for no pay at all. The pay gap continues to exist, because despite the 1970 Equal Pay Act, there are still men and women receiving different pay for doing the same role, and around 54,000 women each year are forced to leave their jobs after receiving poor treatment on returning from having a baby.

Caring and domestic responsibilities within the home still fall overwhelmingly to women, meaning that women are more likely to choose part-time work or jobs with flexible hours. Part-time jobs are typically lower paid with fewer opportunities for upward career progression. The labour market remains stubbornly divided, where ‘feminized’ sectors like the caring professions and the leisure industry, staffed by workers who are 80% female, typically involve poor pay and little professional esteem.

American journalist and author Jessica Valenti writes that the ‘confidence gap’ is merely an understanding of how little women are valued by society. She says that to lack confidence is “not a personal defect as much as it is a reflection of a culture that gives women no reason to feel self-assured”. Between the very real threat of sexual violence, the images of physical ‘perfection’ we’re deluged with on a daily basis via advertising, the pressures of the billion-pound weight-loss industry and the expectations placed on women from an increasingly young age via pornography, it’s hardly surprising that young women don’t report the same levels of confidence as their male peers. Remember, that if you’re too confident or capable, you’ll be branded ‘bossy’ or a ‘bitch’.

Another point worth addressing is that 85 per cent of young women said that they’d applied for jobs and not heard anything back. Often dubbed the ‘fight for feedback’, it has become increasingly difficult to receive any meaningful response from roles if your application is unsuccessful. Even if you attend a first or second-stage interview, businesses may not feel the need to provide any feedback on why they decided to go with another candidate.

This serves to make the process of finding a job intensely demoralizing. You can apply for literally hundreds of roles, and only receive a cursory email response from a handful of them. It’s unsurprising that searching for employment is viewed as a depressing or hopeless task, like chipping away at an unyielding rock-face. When applying for jobs, you can’t learn from rejections if you don’t know where you went wrong.

Businesses who fail to respond to unsuccessful applicants (even when they’ve attended interviews) might argue that they just receive too many applications to reply to unsuitable candidates, but surely this is an indication that there are too few jobs to go around, and that forcing JSA claimants to apply for roles 30+ hours per week is putting a strain on employers.

The UK government has a responsibility to support those who are out of work, both through financial aid and by providing opportunities for training and professional growth. In a wealthy, Western society, this responsibility should be fulfilled no matter which party has the majority in Westminster. However, job centres are failing those who turn to them for help precisely for ideological reasons. The Tory disregard for the vulnerable, dispossessed and unlucky is not beneficial to our society. It’s merely a form of kicking those who are already down, rather than extending a hand to lift them up.

The lack of self-confidence among young women highlighted by the ‘Work It Out’ report is a phenomenon engineered by social and cultural factors. When young women are faced with the arbitrary, inhuman nature of a bureaucracy (in this case, Jobcentre Plus) that’s specifically engineered to work against claimants, the effects of poor self-belief are incredibly damaging. Inadequate provision at job centres and unpleasant behaviour from DWP staff can not only prevent young women from finding appropriate employment, but can also cruelly bar them from reaching their full potential.

*Names have been changed.

Drowned in Manchester – Autumn/Winter 2016

First published by Drowned in Sound, 23rd November 2016

It’s definitely winter now. The weather’s disgusting and the leaves are all sloppy and not fun anymore. Smoking areas are fast becoming uninhabitable. Soon, you’ll have to buy presents for people you feel only a vague attachment to.

The Christmas markets are coming, to clog up the city centre and force you to pay a deposit just for the mug when you want mulled wine to warm your cold, cold soul. The smell of the hog roast will swiftly put paid to your do-gooding vegan impulses, and you’ll inhale a fat roll leaking apple sauce while you argue with your significant other over whose family you both go to over Christmas.

At least we have music.

News

Greta Carroll from the Whalley Range-based electronic pop duo Bernard & Edith is working on a new project called Westwolf Experiment, where she curates a showcase of mixed disciplines by Manchester creatives, including music, dance, art, and fashion.

Greta says: “The purpose of the Westwolf Experiments was to bring together creative people in a space where they could collaborate to shape the future of Manchester’s creative culture. For me, this was a way of responding to the feeling that Mancunian counter culture had become overtaken by the exploitative creep of businesses looking to profit from it. I felt that the way to revive the ailing state that this culture found itself in was with raw creativity, through music and art.”

“Growing up in Whalley Range, I’ve seen it go through many changes. I’ve witnessed the community disintegrating, and I wanted to inspire people to use their local community spaces to create interesting events and bring genuine culture back to Greater Manchester.”

The next Experiment is on Saturday 26th November at St. Margaret’s Church and includes experimental pop from Kiyoko, grime from Yem Gel, poetry by Hammis Rush, and an art installation by Yasmin Lever.

Check out the promo video by Nick Delap here.

In other news, three of the North West’s premier music festivals (Sound City, Kendal Calling and Bluedot) and the popular online music mag Louder Than War have joined forces to create a new music event and conference. The first Off The Record Event was held on 4 November, with a line-up featuring False Advertising, The Orielles, FREAK, Bossy Love, and Noa Noa.

On Saturday 12 November, contemporary art organisation Broken Grey Wires presented ‘Liberate Yourself From My Vice Like Grip’ at Islington Mill. Broken Grey Wires collaborates with artists, institutions and communities to open up a dialogue around mental health, and the Islington Mill event included eight exhibiting artists, and performances from indie shoegaze four-piece Mothers, all-female genre-evaders ILL, and upbeat folk rockers The Yossarians.

Gigs

Media darlings Luxury Death will be playing with HMLTD and Pink Kink at the Castle Hotel on Sunday 27 November. Luxury Death is made up of Ben Thompson from the now-defunct Nai Harvest and his girlfriend Meg Williams, and their bittersweet lofi sound is currently charming everyone from VICE’s Noisey to So Young Magazine.

On 8 December, two naughtily-titled acts will be coming together for a show at The Old Pint Pot in Salford. Riot grrl-influenced Belgian four-piece Cocaine Piss and deliciously soulful ‘anti-folk’ outsider Manchester outfit Crywank will knock the socks off anyone who thinks that punk is dead.

There’s also a delightful Christmas party from A Carefully Planned Festival on Friday 16 December at the Eagle Inn, Salford, with a line-up featuring glorious punk-pop trio Peaness, Chuman, Living Body, and Chrissy Barnacle.

Although not technically a Manchester band, The Orielles certainly spend enough time hanging out and gigging here, so it would be remiss not to mention them. The Halifax three-piece have just been signed to Heavenly and they’ve announced ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallow’, a weekend of gigs curated by the band. It’s been held at Fallow Café on 25 and 26 November, and will feature ZuZu, Party Hardly and The Fentonville Street Band.

Releases

Recorded in a house in Scotland and released on Halloween, The Bear Around Your Neck has gifted us a storming debut album. Big Shiver is a concept offering, mixing country, grunge, and psychedelic influences. Listen here.

Of course, this column can’t mention every amazing Manc artist making waves at the moment, so check out our playlist for some further flavours.

Theresa May has some cheek going cap in hand to India, an ex-British colony, for a post-Brexit deal

First published by The Independent, 8th November 2016

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Theresa May is visiting India this week cup in hand, to ask for a favourable post-Brexit trade deal. There’s arrogance in May’s return to Britain’s former colony, expectant that India will come up with the goods, but ultimately, the move shows how much the tables have turned.

Many people, particularly in my grandparents’ generation, still view British imperialism and empire with a dewy-eyed longing. The reality is, of course, that British rule in India caused the deaths of millions of people through administrative failure and imperialist cruelty. Numerous famines, outbreaks of cholera, the arbitrary and rushed drawing of the border between India and the newly-created Pakistan, mass-displacement, and the destruction of India’s cottage industries left the country impoverished and unstable.

Imperialism set India up as both Britain’s workhouse and convenient marketplace, and when India finally gained independence, it was reduced to one of the world’s poorest economies. For Britain to come begging now that we’ve made such a mess of things with our yet-undefined Brexit, opposed by 48.1 per cent of the electorate, is laughable.

Although a number of the more vehemently right-wing newspapers chose to focus on May’s ‘hardball’ stance on immigration during her visit, they didn’t pick up on the incongruity of the Prime Minister haggling over “Indians with no right to remain in the UK” whilst hankering after a lucrative trade deal.

At a tech summit in Delhi, May was pressured by business leaders including Sir James Dyson and Karan Bilimoria, founder of Cobra beer, to welcome more skilled Indian workers and students to Britain. The Government’s current position seems to involve the hope that India will still sign a cushy deal with us, while we crack down on Indians in Britain who’ve outstayed their frosty welcome.

The political conversation in Britain has, despite the influence of Corbyn, shifted perceptibly to the right. May knows that to keep the would-be-Ukippers and Brexit-devotees onside, she must act ‘tough on those foreign people’ despite surely recognising that she cannot turn back the clock on globalization.

The isolationist, shut-the-door sentiments that brought us Brexit are not going to serve Britain well when it comes to making international trade agreements, and to belief otherwise is a self-important indulgence that we can no longer afford. We live, for better or worse, in an interconnected world, and the issue of migration cannot be wiped off the table during trade discussions.

India wants access to the UK labour market for skilled workers, and the UK government wants to pander to the narrative that immigrants are an unnecessary scourge on our increasingly less green and pleasant land. On the basis of this impasse, a free trade agreement seems like a childish fantasy.

I wouldn’t blame India for putting up two fingers to Theresa May and Britain.

Don’t condemn Donald Trump because ‘it could have been your wife or daughter’, or you’re a sexist too

First published by The Independent, 9th October 2016

In a leaked tape from 2005, Republican nominee Donald Trump can be heard bragging to TV host Billy Bush about how he is able to use his fame to sexually assault women. He describes his attempt to “fuck” a married woman and his penchant for kissing and groping women without waiting for them to give consent. He tells Bush that “you can do anything”, even “grab them by the pussy”, if you’re famous.

Several key Republican figures have been swift to condemn Trump, including Mitt Romney who tweeted: “Hitting on married women? Condoning assault? Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world.” Former 2016 Republican hopeful Ted Cruz, who has backed himself into an increasingly tight and embarrassing corner by his flip-flop endorsement for Trump, tweeted: “Every wife, mother, daughter – every person – deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

The key word here is “person”. Every woman deserves to be treated with dignity and respect because she is a person, not because she’s a wife, mother or daughter. This couching of women as appendages to their husbands, fathers and offspring suggests that men might not be able to see Trump’s comments as “bad” if they can’t imagine women as being intimately connected to them. They can’t – or won’t – empathise with women as fellow human beings; they will only go so far as to think of their wives.

Trump is currently polling at near-unseen levels of unpopularity among female voters. He has previously referred to women as “dogs”, “pigs” and “slobs”, accused Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly of being on her period because she asked him difficult questions in the first primary debate, and called a Venezuelan winner of the Miss Universe pageant “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping”. When taken to task over the last incident, Trump falsely claimed that Alicia Machado had made a sex tape, as if that would in some way discredit her.

Trump was sued for sexual harassment in 1997, with the plaintiff Jill Harth describing him groping her, pushing her against a wall and trying to kiss her. Reportedly, she remembers vomiting to keep him away from her. She dropped the lawsuit a few weeks after it had been filed, but has restated her allegations this year. Trump’s former wife Ivanka used the word “rape” to describe an assault by Trump during a deposition in the 1990s.

After the tape of Trump’s blatantly misogynistic comments was released, former Miss Utah Temple Taggart has recounted an instance of Trump kissing her on the lips without consent when she was 21, and CNN anchor Erin Burnett has quoted a statement from a female friend describing the same behaviour, right down to the Tic Tacs.

He might have released an apology video, but Trump’s attempt to say sorry quickly devolved into an attack on the Clintons, accusing Bill Clinton of abusing women and Hillary Clinton of bullying her husband’s alleged victims. Trump has since retweeted a woman who claims to have been raped by Bill Clinton, as though he can make the latest blundering controversy go away by making the Clintons appear even more monstrous in the eyes of the public. This is a strange strategy for a man with a current federal lawsuit filed against him, brought by “Jane Doe”, a woman who claims to have been tied to a bed, hit in the face, and raped by Trump when she was 13 years old. Jane Doe has the support of a witness and describes her rape as occurring when she attended the party of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted paedophile. Trump has always denied the allegations.

Former model and Trump’s third wife  Melania has urged voters to forgive her husband in a statement issued by the Trump campaign. She said: “I hope people will accept his apology, as I have, and focus on the important issues facing our nation and the world.” Unfortunately, Trump’s heinous comments are part of the “important issues facing our nation and the world”, because they are part of rape culture.

Rape culture describes a social environment where the bodily autonomy of women is not recognised, where rape and sexual assault are normalised, and where men are not held accountable for their actions. In the leaked tape, Trump’s remarks manage to neatly espouse all three of those attitudes. He was demonstrably proud of how his celebrity status allowed him to kiss and touch women without their consent. This is sexual assault. This is a violation of women. This tells women that their bodies are not their own: they are merely objects to be fondled by men who know they can get away with it.

Canadian writer Kelly Oxford appealed on Twitter for women to share their stories of “pussy-grabbing” after Trump’s memorable remarks from 2005 were leaked, and was met with an outpouring of grief, pain and heartbreaking resignation. Millions of women responded with their experiences of sexual assault and rape culture and replies flooded in at a rate of 50 per minute, for 14 hours. I added my own story to the cacophony of voices.

Trump is a dangerous, grotesque political parody, and should be removed from the presidential race. His misogyny is so unabashed and so obvious that he shouldn’t be entrusted with a community bake sale, much less the White House. If he hasn’t got the decency to drop out of the race, I can only hope that America’s women will use their votes on 8 November to send a clear message.

We are not pussies to be grabbed. We are people.

Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader dispenses with claims of his ‘unelectability’

First published by International Business Times UK, 24th September 2016

Today Jeremy Corbyn has achieved a historic victory, winning his second leadership election in just one year. With 313k votes and a 61.8% share, Corbyn has increased his unprecedented mandate from 2015. The charge of ‘unelectability’ is constantly levied against Corbyn by his critics across the political spectrum, but today is solid proof that he’s not unelectable in the eyes of ordinary Labour members.

Despite the introduction of a £25 fee to dissuade new party members and registered supporters from having a say in the leadership election and the heavy-handed purging of ‘unsuitable’ Labour members, the NEC was not able to erode support for Corbyn. The NEC was not able to prevent thousands upon thousands of people turning out to hear Corbyn at rallies up and down the country. The NEC, for all its legal battling and the attempts to keep Corbyn off the leadership ballot altogether, was not able to stop the social movement that Corbyn and what he stands for has inspired.

In order to appease Corbyn’s supporters, Owen Smith was presented as a ‘clean candidate’, without a history of embarrassing voting decisions regarding the Iraq War, tax cuts for the rich, and tuition fees. However, his more polished image, his history of work for pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Agmen, and his habit of answering the question he wishes he’d been asked rather than the question actually put to him marked him out in the eyes of voters as another politician’s politician.

However, it’s definitely worth noting that Smith’s selection as challenger is testament to how firmly Corbyn’s election last year has shifted the tone of the party to the left and allowed Labour to once again differentiate itself from the Conservatives. Ed Milliband’s keeping-everyone-and-no-one happy, Tory-lite approach is long gone, and this in itself is a victory.

In the aftermath of the second leadership election in a year, it is absolutely essential that the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) gets behind Jeremy Corbyn. Regardless of how MPs feel about their leader, he has been twice elected by party members, supporters and trade union affiliates. It is the duty of MPs to represent ordinary Labour Party supporters, not disregard them with a sneer, a shrug, and a paternalistic, I-know-best attitude.

This election has demonstrated, without the slightest shadow of doubt, that Labour members are not being swayed by disloyal MPs speaking to the press about Corbyn’s unsuitability for the role of leader. Anti-Corbyn MPs must accept today’s result with grace, and behave with professionalism towards a leader who is the clear choice of party members. Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and reach out to MPs who have previously opposed him. I can only hope that MPs will accept this olive branch and prevent further rifts in a scarred and divided Parliamentary Labour Party.

This unnecessary leadership election, called at a time of national crisis by short-sighted MPs, is now over, and Labour must focus its energy on holding Theresa May’s government to account and providing a clear, cohesive alternative message for voters. Labour cannot win an election under Jeremy Corbyn if MPs like Jess Philips and Andy Burnham continue to feed negative and damaging messages to the press. Labour cannot win an election under Jeremy Corbyn if the party’s (and the nation’s) focus is on what Owen Jones has dubbed the ‘freakshow’ of internal struggles.

In his acceptance speech at the Labour Party Conference today, Corbyn thanked his opponent and reminded those gathered that they are all ‘part of the same Labour family’. Only when this key message is honoured by MPs and ordinary members alike, will Labour have a real shot at wining a general election.

Since his shock election in 2015, Jeremy Corbyn has presided over one of the most fascinating and unpredictable moments in the history of British politics. With a strong second win and an expansion on his huge mandate, the whole ‘Labour family’ must rally around Corbyn so that his government can effectively oppose May’s harsh Conservative agenda and kick-start real change in an increasingly austere and unequal Britain.