The New IRA, the fringe paramilitary organisation responsible for the death of journalist Lyra McKee, has described Brexit as an ‘opportunity’ for the group.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, the New IRA’s army council said that Brexit has been instrumental in helping to attract support. “Brexit has forced the IRA to refocus and has underlined how Ireland remains partitioned. It would be remiss of us not to capitalise on the opportunity. It’s put the border on the agenda again.”
McKee’s death on April 18th came only months after a large car bomb was detonated in the same town of Londonderry, which has also been blamed on the New IRA. While there have been escalating incidents of apparently isolated violence on the last five years, tensions have been mounting in the province due to Brexit-fuelled uncertainty over the border, and over Northern Ireland’s future relationship with the Republic. Brexit is the perfect excuse for a violent revival of a cause that still stirs Irish consciousness and identity to its core.
The New IRA is one of the few small militant groups that oppose the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to the region after almost three decades of violence.
Outbreaks of violence across Northern Ireland have increased pressure on Irish politicians to restore the devolved Northern Irish Assembly. It’s been over two years since Sinn Fein withdrew from its coalition agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), leaving civil servants responsible the ‘zombified’ administration.
In the absence of alternative political voices, the radicalisation of young people in particular is becoming more and more pervasive, and dissident republican groups like the New IRA thrive in the political vacuum. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the New IRA have been recruiting young people for the last decade, enlisting them in military-style training in preparation for a resurgence. These are not only the poor and disenfranchised: university students are suspected to have been among the targeted recruits. In a statement, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said, “We are leaving far too much wide open space for other kinds of voices that don’t believe in democracy, that peddle hate and fear.”
In this opinion piece, Renew member Tim Fisher takes the nationalists to task.
In all the hubbub of returning to work after Parliament’s Easter Recess, I was disappointed to see the Scottish National Party kick off a drive for another independence referendum. This was disappointing because one of the few positives from the ongoing Brexit debacle has been people from across national and party lines actually working together and having a real impact.
The SNP has been playing a key part in trying to force a public vote on any final Brexit deal in the face of ongoing Parliamentary deadlock. In doing so they have seemed to offer a sensible, credible and stable voice compared to the Westminster chaos and there have been many people pushing them as the only sensible recipient of pro-EU votes in Scotland.
But in pushing for a second independence referendum, which according to recent polling isn’t exactly the most popular idea amongst Scots, the SNP has simply thrown yet more fuel on a fire already raging.
This is perhaps a timely reminder that nationalists are all cut from the same cloth, whether they speak with a Glaswegian or a West Country accent.
If one looks a little closer at these supposed sensible, credible and stable Scottish nationalists, it is not particularly hard to find the stories which quickly rub away any veneer of competence.
The last decade or so of the SNP’s stewardship of Scotland has seen falling standards in schools, mismanagement in the NHS, and the botched centralisation of policing to name but a few “achievements”. Their time in office has also been typified by a general unwillingness to learn from their mistakes coupled with an eagerness to blame others for their failings.
The nationalist refusal to take any responsibility for failures or wrongdoing isn’t just my observation; it has also been noted in a study which appears on the London School of Economics (LSE) website.
A string of scandals, involving former leader Alex Salmond’s alleged sexual misconduct towards civil servants, various instances of financial impropriety and the party’s links to Cambridge Analytica, also suggest nationalist politicians are no more or less dishonest than your average Westminster MP.
So when I turn to look at the Brexit Party, I see many parallels with the SNP.
Both are single-minded, have a strong and easily digestible message and typically have a single figure about whom the faithful can coalesce. They both also have a clearly identified enemy at the root of all their problems and a willingness to ignore the truth when it suits them.
Each of these movements claims or has claimed to be the face of new politics, but previous experience suggests this simply isn’t true. If it were, the politics of grievance or envy would not be writ so large in their thinking.
I don’t see the nationalists, be they the SNP, the Brexit Party, UKIP, Plaid Cymru, or any of the smaller offshoots as much different to the major institutional parties, who seem to covet power for its own sake. They all know what the problems are, especially with each other, or who the enemy is, but they never seem to have a credible plan for what happens after the end of their war.
These groups, despite their protestations to the contrary, all represent the old ways in one form or another and voting for any of them is a vote for a broken status quo.
As a country, we must look for something beyond the single simple message, beyond the threat of a mythical enemy and beyond the personality of a single strong leader.
There needs to be substance and a vision for the long term. The nationalist parties cannot provide it because they will only ever campaign on their single issue. Leaving the EU, or for that matter, the UK, won’t solve the underlying problems. Better surely to find someone with a positive plan and to stay and fight, rather than simply burning the house down with no real consideration for what comes next?
In contrast, I think of my Renew Party friends and colleagues and of the great ideas for the future we have. These positive visions give me hope that together we can create a better country to leave to our children.
So, when you are next casting your vote in an upcoming election, be it for local councillors, MEPs, MSPs or MPs, please remember, now more than ever we need positive change and we cannot rely on failed solutions any more.
The Renew Party offers that positive change.
Join with us to reboot Britain.
 https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/25/nhs-spending-inadequate-in-scotland-says-public-spending-watchdog , https://www.scotsman.com/news/uk-news/damning-report-lays-bare-scale-of-problems-in-nhs-scotland-1-4596651
Hunger is one of the UK’s worst kept secrets. Abject poverty is an insidious part of British society, and millions of families are affected.
The evidence for this is plentiful; last year, three million children were deemed at risk of going hungry during the summer holidays, and one in five children under 15 now live in households experiencing food insecurity. In total, an estimated 2.2 million people living in the UK are severely food insecure – the highest rate recorded anywhere in Europe.
The situation is only getting worse; among the most worrying indicators of this decline is the growing number of food parcels being handed out by hunger charities. The Trussell Trust, which runs one of the UK’s largest food bank networks, reports record usage during the 12-month period from March 2018-19. Around 1.6 million food packages were distributed last year, a 20% increase on the previous year and a 73% increase on the year before that.
But how can this be, when according to the PM, job opportunities are abundant and employment is at a ‘record high’? Of course, the reality is that many families, both working and not working, find themselves trapped in poverty due to unstable employment, stagnating real wages and a desperately inadequate welfare system.
The rise in relative poverty is a particularly damning indictment of Universal Credit. According to the Trussell Trust, the most frequent users of food banks are those on benefits, with welfare reform a ‘key driver’ of increased demand.
Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, agrees; drastic cuts to social security are fortifying high levels of poverty, and Brexit is only making things worse. The Institute for Fiscal Studies adds that the damaging effects of Universal Credit are also disproportionately felt by the poorest families, those least well equipped to cope with delayed payments and rent arrears.
Its manifest failure is now so unmistakable that even government ministers, including Amber Rudd and chancellor Philip Hammond, are now openly acknowledging the flaws in the system. In response to a question from Labour’s Sharon Hodgson, Rudd conceded; “It is absolutely clear that there were challenges with the initial rollout of universal credit,” citing people’s “difficulty accessing their money early enough” as playing a particular role in increased food bank use.
The Tory government’s long-term strategy for lifting Britons out of poverty by boosting productivity and encouraging private sector investment has quite clearly struggled to get off the ground. The reasons for this are countless, but instrumental to the UK’s sluggish economic performance are the soaring levels of inequality within it.
Hence, we must be paying close attention to the problems associated with Universal Credit.
What may have started as an admirable attempt to make welfare work better for its recipients has been transformed under the supervision of then-chancellor George Osborne into a means of reducing the cost of social security.
Simple legislative failings and calculation errors have left hundreds of thousands of British families struggling to make ends meet. Rectifying these misgivings need not be difficult – for example, removing the five-week wait for a first payment would go a long way in reducing its most chronic deficiencies.
Until the holes in the system are plugged, charities like the Trussell Trust will be left to pick up the pieces. But despite their excellent efforts, such a task is simply too great.
If you were to ask me what the soul of Renew is, I would know where to point.
I would send you to the far-flung corners of our nation, where our Scottish regional coordinator Roberta is chatting about Westminster’s politicians with passersby on an Aberdeen side street. She has her Renewometer with her, a neat campaigning tool designed by a small team of enthusiasts back in London.
I would look to Dover, where Steve is running in his local district council elections. He just got together with 12 or 13 people in a pub to talk about his campaign. Next week, they’ll all be out leafleting for Steve. They’ll spread Renew’s message of reform to people just as fed up with politics as they are.
I might even head to Milan, where Renew’s web guy, Manu, is taking a break from the hustle and bustle of London to make some necessary tweaks from home. In keeping with our belief in the European project, our people are from all over the continent.
You might think it’s easy to drum up this kind of support across a relatively compact country like the UK, but you’d be wrong. Just like you, Renew’s members and supporters are busy people with jobs, friends and families. The pressures of life apply to them as much as anyone else. They don’t have all the time in the world.
But they get out there and work hard to get this project off the ground because they believe in its DNA: people from outside politics ready to abandon ideology in the interests of the country. They have a positive vision for our future, which we have all helped to craft.
In an age of extremes, it is not surprising that Renew has proved refreshing to thousands. It should come as no shock that almost 900 people, even in the Leave-voting constituency of Newport West, were inspired to back Renew’s June Davies in the recent by-election. That’s 3.7% of the vote for an explicitly pro-European party after just five weeks of campaigning.
You cannot engineer this kind of movement with adverts on Instagram and nice, shiny badges. You need to make hundreds of train journeys up and down the country, connecting in hotel bars and local pubs, in villages, towns and cities, with strangers united by a common goal. Sometimes it means sweat, sometimes tears - but that is how you create a grassroots to be proud of.
I have mentioned before how we at Renew are called dreamers, foolish for wanting to change a political system that seems stuck in time. Cutthroat tribes stop progress and we struggle to get anywhere.
But, like others before us, we know that this long game starts with real people, not politicians. 'We think that, in a healthy democracy, this game should never end either.'
That’s what we bring to the UK’s long process of political renewal - a reminder to elected politicians that everything’s calm until the plates beneath the Earth's surface want to shift. Now, they are beginning to do just that.
Why don’t we care more about climate change?
The climate crisis is reaching epic proportions. Experts are warning of an existential threat as soon 2040. While we’ve been hearing about the escalating severity of climate change for decades now, we’re yet to see a drastic shift in our attitudes towards it. For the most part, our habits remain unchanged – we continue to rely heavily on energy-guzzling household appliances, cars and single-use plastics, the oil-economy still reigns supreme and our governments have largely failed to meet the commitments they made during the Paris accords.
Some predictions give us until 2025 to reduce carbon emissions to almost nil, before we have to face up to a climate disaster on a scale described by its forecasters as ‘genocide’. While you might be forgiven for thinking such a dire prediction would be enough to spur us into urgent action, the reality is somewhat less climactic.
Recent action by groups like Climate Strike in Europe, Extinction Rebellion in the UK and the progression of the Green New Deal in America mark the beginning of a real, positive change in attitude. But set against the wider context, in which over half of Americans don’t believe that climate change will pose a threat to them in their lifetimes and where climate news rarely makes the headlines, you’ve got to wonder whether this is really enough.
We just don’t seem to care about climate change.
What’s going so wrong? The question is one of both politics and psychology. For starters, our species is hardwired to respond to immediate threats - it’s an instinct that allows us to survive from day to day. We tend not to pay much attention to threats we perceive as distant, instead preferring to divert energies towards addressing the here and now. We often view climate change as something that happens slowly, the effects of which will only take hold in years or decades time. Hence, paying the bills due tomorrow and meeting next week’s deadlines typically take priority.
This may be irrational, but in this case, it’s also completely inaccurate. Over 50% of all anthropogenic carbon emissions currently in the atmosphere were produced over the last 30 years. On average, global temperatures have already risen by approximately 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1880, with two-thirds of this warming occurring since 1975.
And we can’t expect to see a slow-down any time soon. If warming continues at its current rate, we face tripping any number of positive feedback loops which, when triggered, will accelerate the rate of warming exponentially. This could be forest die-off, methane release from melting permafrost, or a reduction in the earth’s global albedo caused by melting sea ice. If any one of these occurs, we’d start feeling things escalate pretty rapidly.
We also find it hard to get to grips with the severity of the threat. For the majority of Westerners, in particular, the danger generally seems to be very far away from home. Having had little direct experience of the kind of drought, extreme weather and flooding that have become commonplace in other parts of the world, it’s easy to believe that climate change doesn’t present a risk to those in the most developed regions.
But again, this may not be true for much longer. The economic impacts of climate change will leave no country untouched, with global GDP expected to fall to 30% below 2010 levels if temperatures rise by 4 degrees. This represents a worse decline than that seen during the Great Depression. If we continue along the current trajectory, we can also expect to see twice as much conflict and a huge reduction in crop yields, leading to food shortages the world over. It’s no longer just those living in vulnerable areas that should be worried about climate change.
There is also a level of uncertainty surrounding the climate change discussion that can easily be translated into an excuse not to act. This ties in with the earlier point about immediacy – we prioritise issues that we know are happening now. Climate predictions vary, and we don’t know with any certainty what the world and its climate will look like in half a century’s time; this ambiguity eliminates a degree of the urgency with which we talk about climate. While it’s true that the very worst case scenarios may never come to pass, we ought to question whether we can really afford to take the risk. If the answer is no, we should be doing everything possible to stop these nightmare outcomes coming to fruition.
Perhaps one of our greatest set-backs so far in the fight against climate change has been the idea that efforts to mitigate it will be inevitably damaging to economic growth. The short-termism that pervades our politics is such that politicians will almost always choose short-term growth over longevity; instant vote-winners over long-term sustainability. As the crisis ramps up, support for sustainable climate initiatives will inevitably gain popularity at the ballot box, but up until now, it’s always been more important for re-election to prioritise economic development and prosperity.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that green climate policy and a healthy economy are no longer mutually exclusive. Fast action will be economically beneficial in a very short space of time - in fact, rapid decarbonisation could add an extra $26 trillion, not exactly peanuts, to global GDP by 2030. The costs of addressing climate change now are almost immeasurably smaller than the cost of inaction would be.
It’s all too easy to sweep the issue of climate change under the rug and turn our attention towards the immediate complexities of everyday life. In reality, what happens to our climate will likely do more to shape our collective future than perhaps anything else. This is truly the issue of our day; it’s time to stop being passive and start treating it as such.
It’s been over 100 years since the first women in the UK won their right to vote. Yet women still face enormous barriers to the corridors of power. Renew's Gwen Jones breaks down the struggles faced by women in power, and the effect it is having on our politics.
The past few months and years have seen a torrent of abuse - both on and offline - directed at female representatives. And it’s not just about Brexit; research reveals an ongoing trend of harassment, aimed exclusively at women in positions of political power.
It’s a growing problem. Most recently, video footage shows so-called ‘yellow vest’ activists hurling violent abuse at Conservative MP Anna Soubry on her way into Parliament. Their actions were later defended by her fellow politicians, including the likes of Nigel Farage.
Recent research conducted by Amnesty International, in partnership with Element AI, suggested that around 1.1 million abusive tweets were sent to the female MPs on their list in 2017. Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, received more online abuse than any other British woman that year.
Stuck in the Seventies
Comments on female MP’s bodies, outfit choices and other aspects of their appearances are prevalent across social and mainstream media platforms, and the weight of such judgements is born disproportionately by women. In September of 2015, Donald Trump remarked of presidential opponent Carly Fiorina; “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president.” One male MP comments; “Women in public life are at a greater risk of being objectified…. Nobody would tweet me saying how terrible my suit was, or to tell me that I’m looking fat, or that I should dye my hair. It just wouldn’t happen.”
Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin endured aggressive and persistent sexualisation throughout her campaign, which came to a head when her early pageant photos were leaked, triggering a barrage of comments on her body and sexuality. One site was discovered selling unofficial bumper stickers publicising her candidacy, which read, “Vote HOT - McCain MILF ‘08”. MILF, for anyone as of yet unclear, stands for ‘Mother I’d Like to F*ck.’
Theresa May developed the nickname ‘Kitten Heels’, due to the frequency with which her footwear choices were detailed in major newspapers. And lest we forget the infamous Daily Mail headline, enthusiastically announcing Brexit discussions between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon: ‘Never Mind Brexit, Who Won Legs-It!’, alongside a photo of the two women sitting side by side.
Google the names of Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, Hilary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice along with the word porn, and the results yield pages upon pages of videos and images that feature the women’s faces in various brutally demeaning sexual scenarios.
Threats to life
Most tragically of all, of course, was the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in June, 2016. While the event should have served as a stark reminder of the dangers of extremism and abuse against politicians, Cox’s name is increasingly being used to glorify this type of violence and threaten other MPs. One of Soubry’s tormentors told her that she should be “Jo Cox’d”. Similarly, a man holding a hunting knife reportedly looking for Labour MP Helen Jones told social workers, “I’m going to go there and Jo Cox her.” Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, also received a letter telling her that she would “join that woman Cox.” I could go on.
The utmost respect is owed to the female representatives who receive this kind of hatred on a daily basis and continue to stand strong in their positions and convictions. But while the treatment of individuals already in the spotlight is troubling enough, perhaps more worrying is its effect on other young girls and women.
A new glass ceiling
The constant fear of backlash limits women’s freedom and willingness to express themselves, both online and on other platforms. Perpetual attempts to threaten or undermine female politicians have also been shown to reduce political participation among women. A recent study by Girlguiding UK found that girls are feeling increasingly excluded from politics by the “outdated and sexist treatment” of female MPs in the press, making them less likely to run for office, join activist organisations, and even vote.
The effect this will have on our national politics, and on our political discourse, is overwhelming. If women’s voices continue to be silenced, this precedent will undoubtedly be allowed to continue - or worsen. Appropriate action must be brought against those who perpetuate this kind of hate; while protecting freedom of speech is crucially important, those using this right to incite violence against women should always be held to account.
We still have a long way to go before the political realm can truly be considered an equal playing field. It is essential that we encourage young women to become politically active, and to overcome deliberate attempts to keep them out of power. We also urgently need to establish reasonable debate between MPs and the public, and make sure that there is less room for this kind of discourse.
Renew's Gwen Jones discusses the tragedy of the Notre Dame fire - and why it is important we learn from it.
The first time I saw Notre Dame Cathedral was in the summer of 2008, during my first visit to Paris as a child. Like so many girls my age, I’d been dreaming of the City of Love for months before I ever got to see it for myself.
The cathedral represents something integral to the Parisian dream, emblematic of the lavish excesses of French bourgeois society. Built between 1163 and 1345, Notre Dame stands in the heart of the city, on the Île de la Cité. At the time of its construction, its immaculate design and masterful construction were a symbol of humanity’s highest capabilities. Notre Dame was, and will always be, a monument to progress - and to civilisation itself.
While, admittedly, its grandeur was likely somewhat lost on me at the time, I can still remember the feeling of reverence that comes from being in the presence of something so much bigger, older, and more significant than yourself.
At the time of writing, the internal structure of the cathedral has been all but completely destroyed. The blaze, first reported late yesterday afternoon, burned for most of last night, as over 400 firefighters battled to extinguish the flames. Parisians watched and wept as the cathedral’s spire finally collapsed. While its main structure - including the two iconic front towers - has now been saved, the timber frame, spire, roof and countless treasures inside have gone up in smoke. With them, a piece of history.
There is something deeply evocative about the destruction of a historic monument. A part of this comes from our unwillingness to accept such tokens of our history as impermanent. Notre Dame, built in an era of thatch, wattle and daub, was built - uniquely - to last. Made from stone, heavy timber and lead, the building was expected to stand the test of time. Indeed, the cathedral’s eternality seemed almost absolute, having survived both the French Revolutions and two catastrophic world wars.
Last night, this illusion was shattered. As the cathedral’s roof was slowly reduced to rubble, so was what it had come to represent - the eternal endurance of human civilisation. However painful, yesterday’s tragedy presents us with a valuable opportunity to reflect on our own mortality; we can afford to take nothing for granted, and our position in the world is infinitely more fragile than we may like to believe.
This level of humility is essential if we are to make responsible choices - the future is in no way guaranteed, and we must appreciate that the consequences we reap tomorrow are contingent on the decisions we make today.
In this opinion piece, Renew leader Annabel Mullin breaks down why entitlement is such a big problem in our political life.
Throughout my time in politics, I’ve had a really big issue. It’s one that won’t go away and that irritates me in every realm of the political spectrum: entitlement.
It doesn’t matter whether it is about votes, being present in a meeting or a system that is kept the same without renewal. Entitlement runs through our institutions; it plagues our political system.
I’m sure that it didn’t start with the expenses scandal, but that’s certainly a good place for me to start. The system was abused by so many, whether or not Sir Peter Viggers actually claimed for the £1,645 floating duck island. The fact that there wasn’t some expenses filter (such as MP’s consciences) seems totally extraordinary. The argument that they were allowed to claim doesn’t really wash when many people struggle to get to the end of the month on their salaries. When Emmanuel Macron recently tried to change fuel tax allowance in France, he was told by a voter, ‘I can’t get to the end of the week’. The same is true for many in the UK.
Our political system itself is deeply flawed. The two-party political state has generated a lazy and bloated political spectrum, built of covert coalitions, that rarely create competition apart from in the (too few) marginal seats. A system that feels entitled to your vote because you live somewhere, because you are BAME, because you are female and young, etc, totally sucks.
No one is entitled to anyone's vote. You earn votes. You should gain them because you offer the best option. And the voters aren’t allowed off scot-free here - they’ve become so disenchanted they can’t be bothered to vote. It is a catch 22 situation, and the trust has evaporated.
I can tell you of countless meetings that I’ve been in with those who think they have right to be there because they exist. Men and women fall into the trap of thinking that one election win, a media ‘love-in’ or their own press entitles them to a hearing.
Entitlement is smothering long-term reform and renewal. So many people go into politics to help improve their communities and they become exhausted and frustrated by the realities of an entitled political system. It spits them out.
As a political party, you earn respect and you earn your vote. No more, no less.
Monday 15 April 2019: The Independent Group and Renew reached a joint agreement that Renew will support The Independent Group at the European elections.
Renew have said that they welcome the opportunity to give their support, backing and friendship to The Independent Group. Renew have therefore begun preparations to wind up operations as soon as the Electoral Commission gives ‘Change UK - The Independent Group’ the all-clear to run in the elections. We look forward to this new chapter as an integral part of an exciting new pro-EU venture.
The Independent Group acknowledges the worthwhile and meaningful endeavours of Renew, and the hard work and dedication of their board members, staff, regional coordinators, policy working groups, supporters and candidates since inception.
Forming a new pro-EU party, particularly during the last two years, has clearly been arduous and challenging, and The Independent Group acknowledges the energy and ambition of Renew in standing up for decent values and honesty in political and public life.
Given the urgency of preparing for the European elections, The Independent Group is grateful for Renew’s pragmatic and generous approach in cooperating under shared values, interests and ideas. The Independent Group has welcomed applications for MEP candidacy from Renew approved candidates.
Commenting on Renew’s decision to support The Independent Group, Interim Leader of The Independent Group, Heidi Allen MP, said:
“I take my hat off to the Renew party who have worked incredibly hard to achieve what many would consider to be an impossible feat, a party born not out of Westminster but in the country. Their values mirror the collaborative approach in The Independent Group, so I am pleased we are working together in the national interest.
“Both Renew and The Independent Group have said that British politics is broken and it needs to change. We are looking forward to working together with them and their supporters in order to change British politics and make the positive case for Britain’s membership of the European Union.”
Annabel Mullin, Leader of Renew, said:
“In keeping with Renew’s commitment to honest, open and practical politics, we are happy to be working with The Independent Group. Due to the Brexit threat, it is essential that the pro-European vote is not split on May 23rd. This strategic move will ensure that voters are presented with a clear, pro-European choice at the ballot box.
“I know that Renew’s work at the grassroots levels can help The Independent Group’s established MPs build a better political system. Renew was founded in order to change the conversation on political reform and provide millions of disenfranchised voters with a voice. We can now do that with The Independent Group, who can provide invaluable expertise and leadership at this crucial time.
“I hope this move will provide a platform for doing politics differently.”
For further information or media bids please contact:
Stuart Macnaughtan on 07930 164 897 or email@example.com
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Notes to editors:
- Heidi Allen MP is the Member of Parliament for South Cambridgeshire, Interim Leader of The Independent Group and Spokesperson on Welfare and Pensions. She came to politics from business, having worked for 18 years in a variety of industries.
- Annabel Mullin co-founded Advance Together, a local political party which recently merged with Renew. She is a magistrate and is completing a PhD at University College London in criminology. Before this, Annabel worked in mental health in the NHS and worked as a police officer. She has also spent time working in financial services. Annabel has three small children and lives in South London.
- More information on The Independent Group is available at our website: https://www.theindependent.group
- You can follow The Independent Group on Twitter: @TheIndGroup
In this opinion piece, Renew's Scotland coordinator Roberta Buchan muses on the things she has learnt in life - and how women everywhere can be better represented in politics.
“I was ambitious, though I didn’t know exactly what I was shooting for. Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child - ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end”.
That was Michelle Obama in the preface to her book Becoming. I write today from a perspective distant from that childhood question. Looking back from here, I see a kaleidoscope of snapshots associated with the theme of being a woman in this world.
I remember Blair’s babes, but I have mixed feelings due to the mixed message.
I remember a courageous young woman stepping out from a studio audience and crossing the studio floor to join a different group to what was expected of her. I recall my surge of delight and admiration.
I remember a picture of a canal barge covered in flowers, an expression of love and grief of friends at the loss of a young mother and MP. I have no words.
I recall another glimpse of the young mother who crossed the studio floor, now elected to represent her local area. She has had the courage to share in a blog post some of her painful struggle from self-doubt to self-acceptance as a woman and parent. She is finding her way.
I also recall a friend feeling she had to resign from her role as Councillor in impossible circumstances. But the image in my mind is of her standing, radiant, on some stairs in the sun.
I think of my own dreams and ambitions in my youth and middle years. Not so much specific career ambitions as an innate sense that I could do anything I wanted to do if I put my mind to making it happen. I have no idea how I came to have such an extraordinary (as I see it now) notion. But it surely must have been instilled by my mother. In my formative years, I was brought up in a single-parent family. Only in adulthood did I recognise that not every girl grows up with such an inner conviction.
The feeling faded gradually over those middle adult years, which is just as well. I have a son and grandchildren now who need space to grow into their lives.
Thinking on what these snapshots express for me, it is the full spectrum from dramatic to mundane that a woman’s life in politics or any other setting embraces. The examples I mention are all women with young or adult children. But irrespective of this I maintain that the full spectrum is manifest in the lives of women active in public life.
Returning to the quotation from Michelle Obama’s Becoming, I hear in it a message that enabling a young girl to find her way in life calls for letting her do so, not pushing her into a narrow idea of how she should be thinking. I think we should be doing the same for all children and young people.
My present involvement in politics is behind-the-scenes. I get satisfaction from doing what I can to support and create a context within which others can come forward and stand for election to represent the people on behalf of a party whose values I feel at home with. I know there are opportunities out there for women and men to become elected representatives and they will make discoveries, learning a lot in the process.
Sometimes they will face calls for collective action to bring transformation to the system and institutions of our UK politics. This is something fundamental that Renew stands for. I have hope that an increased proportion of women actively involved will help to bring the necessary change.
A small but significant practical example: Renew leader Annabel Mullin brought her children into the office over the school half-term break and posted a message about this on social media. This is a practical example of how things change if barriers are not put in the way of women's involvement.
Women's full integration into the public political sphere - and with it the potential to transform the institutional mindset - calls for doing away with a false dichotomy in how we view and what we expect of women and men. Jane Garvie of Women’s Hour recently pointed out that a passing comment on how hard it must have been for a successful woman singer to have pursued her singing career with young children at home would never have been made about a successful male singer. How true that is.
The efforts and courage of all of us must be brought to bear on dissolving barriers for women. Then we’ll see how the pace of change will surge.