Fighting for their future

NASUWT, the teachers’ union, alongside the shadow education secretary, Ed Balls, are calling for a lobby of Parliament tomorrow. To get involved, check: this.

These contests are taking their toll on us all

With Gordon Brown leaving his position of Labour Party leader after the loss of power at the last election, many of us – from inside and outside of the party – feared a rushed contest to instate a new leader.

And now what do we have? The months are dragging by before the final membership ballot. In a ceremonial announcement, the new leader will not be announced until the annual conference at the end of September. Countrywide hustings, union and constituency (CLP) nominations are coming in dribs and drabs.

The painfully prolonged, selective scrutiny is making this new Labour member is running out of patience.

Swathes of people (notably those in the South East of England) are disconnected from the hustings, and thus the message of each of the candidates standing is lost. Without access to the internet, many older people are reduced to choosing a leader on the basis of their past credentials.

Coinciding with this onslaught is the campaign of choosing the next Labour contender for the election of the London Mayor. With Oona King battling with ex-incumbent Ken Livingstone, the party is positively divided.

Two Eds, two Milibands, an Andy, one feisty woman, an Ex-MP and Red Ken do not equal a united political machine. The sooner a new leader is chosen, the better. After all, there are a lot more problems to deal with than deciding who will be the one to sort them out.

A symbol of cultural expression or a symbol of female opression?

France is the latest country in the growing list of western nations to revile the full veil – with its  lower house of parliament voting unanimously (except one) to ban the burqa and niqab from being worn anywhere in public. It is likely that the upper chamber will follow suit.

According to the BBC, 2000 of the five million Muslims in France are believed to wear the full veil. The penalty of wearing it in public is estimated to be around €150 (£120), with higher fines and custodial sentences for men found to be forcing women to cover up in public.

Last month it was reported that Conservative MP Philip Hollobone proposed to table a bill to ban the veil in this country. He described the burka as “against the British way of life”.

Earlier today, Diane Abbott, Labour leadership contender filed an early day motion, abhorring the recent decision in France. She commented:

Speaking today about the bill, Diane said:

This bill is divisive and contrary to international human rights law. It contravenes basic civil rights such as the freedom of expression and religion. Proponents of this bill are hailing it as a liberating piece of legislation for women and a victory for democracy, but I refuse to agree with these sentiments. This bill is simply an enforcement of French secularist values on a small minority of society, and this is evident in the threat of citizenship classes as punishment

The majority of Muslim women who wear the burka choose to do so out of free will, so to criminalise a religio-cultural practise under the pretence of sexual and religious liberation is completely wrong.

Politicians are not elected to regulate what is worn by citizens; in turn, secular society is important in 21st century Britain. The dichotomy between religious culture and a plurality of belief must be balanced, fair and inclusive. Marginalising women, instead of listening to them is no better than putting them behind a piece of material, after all.

Digital UK aimed at reducing burden of welfare state

Everybody of working age will be online by 2015, according to the government’s “digital champion“.

Martha Lane Fox has suggested that tasks such as applying for school places and free school meals should be done online, with those applying for benefits having to pass an “informal” IT test.

“As Martha’s work shows, promoting digital inclusion is essential for a dynamic modern economy and can help to make government more efficient and effective.” David Cameron

In the name of making services more efficient and cost effective, services are to be held at arms length – with a series of hurdles to jump. Web-only application is neither fair nor viable for a national government to impose. In areas with a lack of public services offering computer training and internet access, many people could be excluded from applying for help.

This shortsighted proposal ignores the basic problems of the millions of people who are living under the poverty line. Technology is still unaffordable for many. Limited and timed internet access at a local library or job centre is not the answer to reducing the number of people claiming for financial assistance from the welfare state.

What does it take to be called a journalist these days?

Isn’t everyone is a journalist? Sharing information with networks of people: whether it is peer-to-peer, on a blog or social networking medium, story tellers exist everywhere. When is it that a citizen journalist is shortlisted and invited to join the elite of relatively few hardcore ‘journalists’?

It can’t be when you work for an organisation – what about freelancers?

Is it when you write a story in a way that can be understood by people? No. That doesn’t fit either – that would exclude broadcasters too.

And it certainly isn’t when you have studied journalism.

Within the industry there is a certain snobbery about who can identify themself as a journalist. In the recent BBC College of Journalism/Polis conference on the value of journalism, Damien Tambini described citizen journalists as ‘new media insurgents’.

In regards to ‘saving journalism’ Tambini explores a few ideas – and whether/how ‘new media insurgents’ can access those privileges of old. “We need to think more innovatively about how to support [journalism],” he says. “We need to think about creating new kinds of privileges and support…”

Using new mediums such as Twitter gives the writer access to swathes of unreported information and people of interest. It has never been so easy to publish interesting and exclusive information as it is now. At the same time, giving a platform to the public also drives down standards, tests media ethics and limits the verification of information.

The industry is quickly embracing social media. The toll of new media reporting on large organisations is yet unclear, but it could easily be said to be helping some companies. The Daily Mail, along with the Guardian and Times were recently under scrutiny for using TwitPic photos without permission. Writing outside of an organisation gives a freedom of integrity and expression. Yet at the same time, it leaves us open to abuse.

To be a journalist. Just when will I acquire the title?

Young people need a positive message

Since leaving sixth form, battling with UCAS and the Student Loans Company myself, it has evidently become more difficult to be given a place at university. At the same time, young people are being pressured into becoming more educated than ever before.

Government attainment targets such as league tables encourage schools and colleges to push students into applying for university. With cuts to university places, combined with increasing youth unemployment figures, the future for young people in this country is looking gloomy.

Media reports of “The lost generation: Unemployed, broke and disillusioned” merely worsen our situation. Positive sourcing of work such as social enterprise, skill development and entrepreneurship are all attainable attributes for new graduates to consider in these tough economic times.

Unpaid internships are at the forefront of hierarchical, class-based gaining of experience – with those in London, along with people who are given the means of borrowing money having a distinct advantage. Campaigns surrounding the inequality of unpaid internships such as Interns Anonymous and All Skilled Up, All Dolled Up are fighting for fairer internships.

What we need is a positive, inclusive message for young people and graduates. Being bombarded with defeatist  rhetoric on a constant basis is dragging down our spirit. We went to university to learn more, to be more employable and to have a good time in the process. University has not prepared many of us for what we have found once we get off at the other end; mortarboard dislodged and certificate clasped in the queue at the Post Office.

Class matters and beauty pageants

‘Living Dolls’, featuring in The Observer today is a eye-opening account of the million dollar pageant industry in the United States, which is creeping its way over the Atlantic.

According to research at Harvard University, the ‘typical’ parent and entrant of young American beauty pageants is of a low social class, and appear to use the competition to better their children.

“I want my child to be aware that there’s going to be somebody better than her. It’s a hard thing to learn – it was for me – and I want her to start early.” Another mother saved any prize winnings in a college fund for her daughter.

A new six-part series, Baby Beauty Queens, documenting the phenomenon in the country begins on 20 July on BBC3.