Philip Hammond’s ‘Millennial Railcard’ is an insult to a generation he doesn’t actually intend to help

First published by The Independent

In tomorrow’s Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to announce that free railcards will be offered to millennials, as part of an attempt to court younger voters.

According to the Resolution Foundation, millennials are the first generation in modern times to be worse off than their parents. Wages outstripped by inflation, degrading living standards and a worse quality of life is the reality for millions of young people across the UK. We struggle to make ends meet, we’re unable to save anything from our pay checks – and not because we’re feckless or lazy, or obsessed with avocado toast and Pret sandwiches.

Sure, we’d like to stop pouring our wages into the pockets of private landlords who charge rip-off rents, but the average deposit for a first home is currently £49,639 and in London it’s £106,500. How can you save when everything you earn goes towards simply existing? Unless you have extremely well-off parents, or are able to live rent-free in your family home for years, you haven’t got a chance.

The UK is in the grip of a severe housing crisis. House building has stagnated due to the irresponsible and avoidant approaches of both New Labour and Conservative governments. A lack of affordable homes means that people are forced to rent for longer, often at astronomical prices, and the coffers of landlords are too regularly topped up from the public purse through housing benefit payments.

What’s more, a third of all privately rented homes in Britain fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard, because landlords are more interested in taking money than ensuring that their tenants live in safe conditions. I’ve lived in eight different privately rented properties since I was nineteen and I’ve had enough eczema, chest infections, mouldy wallpaper, lukewarm water and wet plug sockets to last me a lifetime.

Millennials are more likely to be working insecure jobs than previous generations of young people, and those in unstable work have a higher risk of suffering from poor mental health. Due to a lack of graduate jobs and opportunities, young people who are overqualified or underemployed also report higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Conservative policies have left an entire generation behind. Some of us are “just about managing” – but many of us are not managing at all.

But, this will all be solved by a brand spanking new railcard, apparently. The lack of understanding of what is happening to young people in the real world is astounding. When 30-year-olds need a railcard to travel, that’s a definitive sign of a failing economy.

Philip Hammond claims ‘there are no unemployed people’ ahead of budget

A “Millennial Railcard” will not solve years of austerity. It will not solve the housing crisis, the employment crisis or any other crisis, for that matter. The free railcard is a sticking plaster solution. It’s laughably weak at best, and downright insulting at worst.

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is the credible alternative for young people who have been successively victimised and undercut by Tory policies designed to appeal to a wealthier older generation. Corbyn’s Labour has stripped austerity of its invisibility cloak and represents a choice wholly separate from the Tories’ failed neoliberal agenda.

The 2017 Labour election promises of a much-needed house building programme, the scrapping of tuition fees, and the introduction of a real living wage showed young people that Labour was listening to them. This Tory attempt to woo young voters away from Corbyn with a shiny freebie is woefully inadequate.

(Also, if we renationalised our inefficient and overpriced railways, young people wouldn’t need a railcard to be able to afford to travel. Just a thought!)

Millennials want stable, quality jobs where we can receive reliable hours, a living wage and some form of career progression. We don’t want to spend our adult lives saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of student debt and insecurity.

We need to be protected as private tenants, pay reasonable rents and live in accommodation that’s fit for human habitation – something the Conservative government doesn’t think is necessary.

We want to be able to buy our first home, even if we don’t have the bank of Mum and Dad to rely on. If we’re unemployed or too sick to work, we want to be treated with dignity.

A railcard just isn’t going to cut it. Sorry.

 

There’s another story behind the Manchester terror attack: how locals responded

First published by The Independent

Last night, Manchester became the target of the deadliest terrorist attack on domestic soil since the 7/7 bombings in London. In an act of monstrous cruelty, the man responsible chose a pop concert, filled with children, young people and their parents. He attacked our shared values, our love of the arts, of music and of the freedom to come together.

There can be no words to describe the suffering of those who have lost loved ones. Children were among the 22 killed, and some parents still don’t know if their babies are going to come home. People are injured and many are still being treated in hospital. The numbers of the dead may still rise.

But amongst the grief and panic, Manchester’s indomitable spirit has not been broken. We are a vibrant, multicultural city, where decency and tolerance are highly valued. We will not be cowed or divided, not by this cowardly act of terrorism or by those who will take this event as an opportunity to stoke up Islamophobia and racial hatred.

I’m so proud of my city. Manchester’s emergency service workers responded to the crisis with speed and skill, and continued to work and treat people all through the night.

Manchester’s taxi drivers gave free rides to concert-goers, hotels provided rooms free of charge, and so many people opened their homes to those who were stranded or injured in last night’s attack.

An incredible woman took around 50 children who had been separated from their parents to safety, chaperoning them to a nearby hotel and sharing her phone number on social media so that parents could get in touch with her.

A homeless man rushed inside the arena with no concern for his own safety, and held an injured woman while she died in his arms.

People have been queuing throughout the day to give blood, so many that the NHS has now confirmed that they have all the blood they need for patients at this time.

My place of work, the Islamic faith-based charity Human Appeal, responded immediately to create a fund for the victims of the terrible attack. People of all faiths are coming together to show solidarity and concern.

All local concerts in our thriving music scene are going ahead as planned, to show those who would terrorise us that we will not run scared.

We are the city of the Smiths, the Stone Roses, Oasis and Factory Records. We are the city of Emmeline Pankhurst, L.S Lowry, of the very first stored programme computer, of industry and art and political theory. We are a welcoming, free-thinking city. We stand together, in strength and love.

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

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.

NEW NOISE: The Tuts

First published by Wonderland Magazine, 31st August 2016

The Tuts are three women from West London who batter their instruments, crowdsurf, and write punk pop tunes that demand dancing. They’re a breath of fresh air in the male-dominated punk and garage scene, fusing brash guitar with joyous vocal harmonies. They can count the likes of Billy Bragg and Kate Nash as their fans, and have toured with Nash, The Selecter, and Sonic Boom Six.

The Tuts are the politically-engaged, angry, totally fan-funded girl band of the future, addressing everything from industry sexism and the Tory government to bad boyfriends and creepy ex-friends. They’re Nadia Javed, Harriet Doveton and Beverley Ishmael, and they’re releasing their debut album ‘Update Your Brain’ this month.

Your debut, ‘Update Your Brain’, is going to be released on 8th September. Are you excited? How long has the album been in the making?

 Nadia Javed: I am so excited that it’s almost tipping me over the edge and my mental health is actually a bit all over the place –  I’m so excited, anxious & worried about the whole thing. I feel like it’s an exam I’m revising for and I could do with another week of revision. When the album comes out it’s literally gonna be the pinnacle of careers.

We’ve funded the album via our Pledge campaign. It works as a crowd funder and we hit our target in 5 days. Currently, 709 people have pre-ordered the album, which is pretty good considering we’re a DIY band with no major label or anything. I’ve loved tracking our progress on pledge and looking at the graphs doing data analysis, I’m a geek like that.

Harriet Doveton: It’s been a long time in the making in terms of the songs. Some date back to when Nadia and Bev were teenagers, some are pretty new! We could’ve started working on recording the album ages ago…but I’m confident that NOW is the time and I’m so glad we didn’t do it any earlier. We’ve been prepping and working so hard day and night this year for Update Your Brain, so now I’m excited to just get it out there and let it also do it’s own thing as well as watch all our hard work pay off. I think people are gonna love it. 100% bangers, in my opinion!

 Describe your sound to us in five words.

Nadia Javed: cacophony of bubblegum pussy punk pop

Harriet Doveton: Yummy, sincere, melodic, girl gang EXPLOSION!

Beverley Ishmael: FUZZY BUBBLE GUM POP PUNK

The video for ‘Let Go of the Past’ is so cool and kitschy!  How did you come up with it?

Nadia Javed: The video idea came from the director Jennifer Doveton. She wanted it to look like Jackie magazine and we loved the idea cos it meant we could dress up all 60s/70s and go all out with the hair and makeup.  We love any opportunity to get dressed up. The video mocks some of the old fashioned views that were around of the 60s 70s. For example, there’s a scene where Bev’s at uni but back in the 70s there were hardly any black people at uni. Teen Vogue were supposed to premiere the video and literally the night before emailed us saying that there wasn’t enough of a ‘peg’ for them. We all got into a panic, had a cry cos it was our first release off the album and we wanted it to go out with as much hype as possible. We got over the let down quickly – at the end of the day, we started DIY and we’ll continue DIY.

Harriet Doveton: When we ask my sister Jen to make us a new music video all she has to do is listen to the song ONCE and she’s buzzing with all these detailed adventurous yet totally doable ideas. She’s a creative genius. And she pretty much goes with her first idea every time, like it’s meant to be. So as soon as she heard Let Go of the Past she knew she wanted it to be based around ‘Jackie’ the magazine from the 1970s. Which gave us SO much beautiful aesthetic and ideas to work with. But its also pretty tongue in cheek and pokes fun at how backwards magazines were in previous eras (and still can be now!) Of course it was hard work, just us, Jen and a few friends helping out. But all you need is a small team of reliable people to make something happen.

The Tuts have no manager or promoter. Talk to us about why you’ve decided on the DIY approach.

Nadia Javed: We’ve decided to go down the DIY route for a few reasons. These days you don’t get major labels signing you up unless your parents are famous or you are lucky and have some sort of connection. The smaller record labels can’t offer us enough, we can basically do what they can without having to give away a cut of our fees (they usually want 15-20%). And lastly, we haven’t found anyone who is good enough and can do a better job of it than us. We write our own songs, book our own gigs, do our own social media, have full control over our creative inputs, contribute ideas about our merch, pretty much taught ourselves how to play our instruments. Last year we signed a deal with this cowboy manager, he had no contacts, told us we were shit and crap and basically put us down. We are 100% DIY – at times though it can get too much and you wish you could focus on the songwriting instead of chasing up press or packaging your CDs up to send off to radio stations.

Harriet Doveton: We didn’t exactly decide on the DIY approach. It was natural for us at the beginning of course to just be doing everything ourselves because who else would do it for us? Now we’ve toyed with the idea of working with others but we are proper control freak business women, so its hard to hand over basically our LIFE and passion to someone else. We worked with a manager for a short period of time and it actually delayed a lot of our plans and everything was a mess. Wouldn’t rule it out all together- maybe we’ll find our soul mate manager one day, are you out there? Call me.

But in the mean time, we are breaking our backs as a busy full time DIY band, but reaping the rewards too. Also, a lot of industry types don’t instinctively want to work with a group of women, they won’t always see us as an investment, perhaps just a passing fad. Of course, this is misogynistic, but we’re gonna just ride that misogyny wave to success. Why let it drag you under?

‘Update Your Brain’ features several tracks that address sexism in the music industry. How prevalent do you think this is?

Nadia Javed: The music industry is still really sexist. Festival line-ups are really bad, although some festivals are great and have a good representation. Sexism is something we are facing but also undercover racism. As a girl band AND women of colour we’re fighting a double battle with our colour and gender. It annoys me when people think the reason for these skewed line-ups are that there aren’t enough female bands but there are! They just aren’t getting a platform. Women are more accepted in pop, RnB, and as mainstream solo singers (Beyoncé, Rihanna, Taylor Swift) etc. but not so much if they’re playing their own instruments and in guitar bands. If there’s a girl band on a line-up they’re seen as a token band and there’s only room for one on the bill, quota filled – no more room. The whole punk, rock and indie alternative scene is still male dominated, things need to change. We’re intersectional feminists with pop punk bangers…the world needs us more than ever. That’s why our new album is called ‘update your brain’ cos shit needs to UPDATE.

Harriet Doveton: It’s always been important to us to discuss corruption or inequality in any industry or even situation. Whether it be sexist, racist, homophobic or anything else equally horrible. Speaking out and keeping a critical mind just feels natural and is how we need to be particularly now in the state of this country, and to be able to channel our frustration into songs is even better!

Beverley Ishmael: Well there’s not a day that goes by where a woman isn’t being harassed or sexually assaulted. We feel its very important to sing about things like this. If you ain’t adding value to the music industry, I feel like you need to quit.

tutsbedroom

The next step for The Tuts is obviously your UK tour. Where are you most looking forward to playing?

Nadia Javed: I think the London show is gonna be the most epic. I think about it everyday. We’re also close to selling out. All our close friends, family, fans will be there. It’s gonna be a special night. Hopefully, I won’t be too high on adrenaline and will be able to control my energy. The last London show was too overwhelming for me to the point where I couldn’t enjoy the show. I think I need to meditate before I go up because I was so hyper it was dangerous.

Harriet Doveton: Yes the tour! Oh my god, everywhere. I love going up North. But its exciting to play some places we haven’t played that many times. Like Southampton and Cardiff. I’m looking forward to seeing all the familiar and new faces at the shows, and that a bunch of the support bands are my mates and their music deserves to be heard! We handpicked the support acts ourselves. Crywank, Personal Best, Joyce Delaney, Milk Crimes, Taco Hell, Happy Accidents! What a list. Some of the stars of the DIY punk scene.

Beverley Ishmael: I really love playing Brighton! I have good memories of playing shows there.

One of the lyrics on your album is ‘I will steal your girl fans’ – how have young women responded to The Tuts? Do you have a broad fanbase?

Nadia Javed: Young women are energised by us, they love it! We get messages from young girls telling us we’ve given them the confidence to stand up against bullies, to pick up instruments and basically empower them to full fill what they lacked confidence in doing. This means the world to us. It’s our duty to empower women and victimised groups. After we toured with Kate Nash we got a lot of young fans but we also have a middle aged man fan base from when we toured with The Selecter. We love our fans but I would love to reach out to a younger audience of bad assss feminists. I feel like the only way of getting to this type of audience is by supporting a young established artist.

Harriet Doveton: Yes, I want to steal ALL the boy bands girl fans!! They deserve to be ours! These girls need to see more women on stage. Imagine what it could do for them and their self esteem. Our fan base is broad, a lot of middle aged punk and ska fans, a collection of punks our age, indie poppers and teen girls!

Beverley Ishmael: Hahaha our fan base is dads and daughters.

Who would The Tuts most like to share a stage with?

Nadia Javed: Currently I would really like to share a stage with Charli XCX she’s half Indian like me, her attitude is great, she’s strong, fierce and has catchy pop anthems with zero fucks given attitude. I LOVE HER.

Harriet Doveton: Paramore or Charli XCX!

 Beverley Ishmael: I would love to share the stage with Beyoncé. I don’t know what we would do though. I’d just be on the stage while I watch her do her thing.

How do The Tuts plan on achieving world domination from here onwards?

Nadia Javed: We would like to tour with another major band or artist that has a younger audience with lots of girl fans. We’re gonna carry on doing what we’re doing so keep reaching out to various press etc. to get on as many platforms. But personally I want to develop as a songwriter and really get into working on songs for the second album. We’re gonna carry on being amazing, blowing up stages and steadily reach world domination on our own upward success.

Harriet Doveton: We have BIG plans that we can not yet reveal. But in the mean time, our album is going to lead us to where we need to be. Plus we want to get on loads more festivals next year, even just for the bantz! Tuts do festivals the way festivals should be done. Play an out of control show, get wild at the merch table, find men to take the piss out of, and run around hyped on sugar.

 Beverley Ishmael: Not get pregnant!

 

Update Your Brain is out on 8th September, on Doveton Records.

Jeremy Corbyn supporters have been demonised from the word go

First published by International Business Times UK on 17th August 2016

Despite the Conservative Party’s success in leading Britain into the disaster of Brexit, the complete lack of responsibility taken by the three key figures in the Brexit campaign (Johnson, Farage and Gove), the very public mess of professional backstabbings that followed, and the fact that Theresa May, a politician will a clear disregard for basic human rights, is ensconced in Number 10, all eyes seem to be on the Labour Party’s struggles.

Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have been unfairly demonized by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and by comfortable, London-based political pundits since the outset. His inclusion on the leadership ballot in June last year was viewed as an indulgence, a foolish little outing for an ageing, left-wing politician, and his unprecedented win saw hackles rise within the party and across the media landscape. Even the ‘ethical’ and purportedly left-wing Guardian would not give their support to Corbyn.

Corbyn has been forced to battle on all fronts, taking on not only the Tories, but his own party who have hardly covered themselves with glory during this episode in Labour’s history. Accusations from leadership contender Owen Smith in today’s BBC hustings debate that Corbyn has failed to work with his colleagues are truly laughable, as Corbyn’s only crime towards the PLP has been to be voted leader (with the biggest mandate in Labour Party history). Mass resignations, open disloyalty and barbed comments to the media were carried out by anti-Corbyn Labour MPs and the responsibility for these actions sits squarely on their shoulders. They have shown a remarkable disrespect for the Labour members and supporters who voted overwhelmingly to elect Mr Corbyn as leader.

The National Executive Committee’s (NEC) move to block 130,000 Labour members who joined after January 2016 (and the subsequent legal wranglings) is another attack on Corbyn’s supporters and it feels horribly unfair that the NEC is able to simply rewrite the rules of Labour membership because they wish to oust Corbyn. Last week former Deputy Tom Watson warned of ‘Trotskyist infiltration’ in the Labour party and of course Jeremy Corbyn was to blame for this. Corbyn has become Britain’s most popular scapegoat, and his supporters are tarred with the same brush.

Owen Smith’s accusation that Corbyn of taking Labour back to a 1980s politics of mass protest rallies in last Thursday’s leadership debate is absolutely indicative of the paternalistic attitude of many of Corbyn’s critics. It doesn’t seem to matter what ordinary Labour party members and supporters want. We’re treated as plebs, fools and extremists, not as the people that the PLC is there to represent.

It’s immaterial how many people have joined the Labour party because they’re energised by the common sense policies and ‘kinder politics’ espoused by Corbyn, or how many people have turned out to attend rallies up and down the country. It’s of no consequence that Labour members are calling for a fairer Britain where the agenda of austerity is challenged, tuition fees are scrapped, corporations are forced to pay their taxes, rail fares are affordable, mental health is addressed in a compassionate and cohesive manner, green solutions are engaged with, and billions are saved instead of being funnelled into nuclear weapons. It doesn’t matter to the PLP because they always know best.

Saying that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable doesn’t necessarily make it true. If he were so unelectable, why would the NEC need to go to such great legal lengths to ensure that the 130,000 new Labour members were excluded from the leadership ballot? Why would the media bother with bias and smear if Labour has no chance of being elected under Corbyn? It has, of course, been proven that clear bias has been applied to articles about Corbyn across major publications, in a vicious and destructive way previously unseen even in the hard-knock world of political reporting. The ugly treatment of Corbyn indicates fear of a man who has forever voted on the right side of history and who cannot be bought.

I’m now going to take the opportunity to state that the abuse of ‘Blairite’ or anti-Corbyn MPs by those who support the Labour leader is absolutely abhorrent. It flies in the face of everything that Corbyn stands for. There is no room for sexist or homophobic abuse, threats of violence, or any other kind of intimidation or harassment among Labour supporters. It is unequivocally wrong and it disgraces all of us.

However, it’s essential that this bad behaviour from some supporters does not eclipse the consistently bad behaviour of anti-Corbyn MPs, media pundits and the NEC. Labour must start listening to it’s members, and fast. Within the media bubble, it’s easy to see Corbyn as a lame duck, dragging his wounded body towards a sad conclusion, but when you get out on the streets and talk to people, a very different picture emerges. Corbyn has already won 285 nominations from constituency Labour parties, not because people want to see some kind of ersatz ‘Red Britain’ or because they are stupid, or even because they’re endeared by Corbyn’s ‘dad dancing’. His support comes from the fact that he was the only 2015 leadership candidate to provide an alternative to the Tories’ cruelty and their slash-and-burn austerity agenda, and from the policies he stands by. If we are to move towards a fairer Britain, the PLP must scrap it’s patronising ‘Daddy knows best’ approach and wake up to the real concerns of Labour members.

 

Labour disrespected its own members by trying to bar them from voting – the High Court ruling will benefit Corbyn all the more

First published by The Independent, 8th August 2016

Today the High Court ruled that it is unlawful for Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to bar 130,000 new party members from voting in the upcoming leadership election. Five Labour members took the NEC to court over the restrictions imposed on their right to vote, and were vindicated in a historic victory for Jeremy Corbyn, those who support him, and ordinary members forced to pay a £25 “supporters’ fee” on top of their party dues.

The NEC has endeavoured to block Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters at every opportunity, even forcing him to threaten legal action to ensure that his name appeared on the leadership election ballot. Although Corbyn’s leadership splits public opinion, it’s undeniable that he has swelled the ranks of Labour party membership to heights unseen even under Tony Blair. He commands huge turnouts at rallies up and down the country, and has energised a generation of young people who are statistically more unlikely to be politically engaged.

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid and subsequent election inspired me to become a full Labour party member. He was the only candidate with a clear anti-austerity agenda, and he demonstrated a commitment to a politics free of smear or personality contest window-dressing. Voting for Corbyn in 2015 didn’t feel like making a compromise or choosing the lesser of several evils. To me, his policies are common sense promises that address Britain’s growing wealth divide directly.

I don’t think it’s fair that the poorest and most vulnerable in society are penalised while corporations and wealthy individuals are able to avoid paying the taxes they owe, with major accountancy firms advising government on policy and writing in loopholes to benefit themselves and their clients. University graduates should not be saddled with enormous debts, and others priced out of achieving their academic potential altogether.

We should be encouraged to use public transport, instead of being charged rip-off rail fares. Inequality of pay for women and young people should have long been abolished, as should zero hours contracts. I want to see us invest in green solutions to protect our planet and create new jobs, rather than pissing away billions on nuclear warheads designed to cause devastation and genocide.

I’m also keen to stand behind a party leader who doesn’t curry favour with media moguls who have undue influence over British politics and seek to retain the status quo. Labour should be a party that promotes fairness and equality, and protects the interests of ordinary people, not just the privileged few.

It doesn’t matter how many times the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) or political pundits (usually older, financially secure and based in London) throw around their accusations of unelectability, a split Labour party, or “dangerous socialism”. The policies that Corbyn champions are meaningful to hundreds of thousands of people, and absolutely necessary if we’re serious about building a fairer Britain that works for the good of everyone.

The Labour coup was a disgrace and the MPs involved revealed themselves as no better than bickering children. They disrespected the party members they’re elected to represent and showed major disloyalty towards a leader elected with the largest mandate in modern Labour party history.

With regard to the NEC, it’s highly disheartening that Labour members have been forced to go through the courts in order to secure a vote that should unquestionably been theirs. The NEC decided not to follow their own rules by barring those who joined Labour in the last six months from voting, an arrangement made all the more sourly suspicious as it was so obviously for partisan reasons.

Today’s High Court victory is a signal to the NEC that they cannot ride roughshod over the rights of Labour party members just because they want to slash the number of Corbyn’s supporters in the upcoming leadership election. The involvement of the courts should never have been necessary.

Attempts to dissuade newer members with financial charges, as though our more recent admission to the party makes us somehow illegitimate, will not stand. The NEC has been clearly quashed in its attempt to pervert the democratic process. Come September, if Labour party members wish to re-elect Corbyn, we absolutely will.

Jeremy Corbyn created the role of Mental Health Minister – he didn’t axe it without a fight

First published by The Independent, 6th July 2016

Today, Labour supporters, MPs, and mental health campaigners alike are disappointed to learn that in the wake of the Labour Coup, the position of Shadow Minister for Mental Health has been scrapped. The first MP to hold the post, Luciana Berger, was among those who resigned after the sacking of Hilary Benn. Jeremy Corbyn has revealed a pared-down Shadow Cabinet line-up, reduced from 31 positions to 25, with the brand new mental health post among those axed.

I wrote a piece in support of Corbyn’s decision to create a ministerial post that bravely addressed Britain’s growing mental health crisis, in this publication. As an ambassador for the charity Young Minds, an organisation that provides support for young people suffering from mental illness, it is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge the scrapping of this essential role.

To erase the position sends the wrong message to those who suffer from mental health problems and those who have dedicated their lives to caring, educating, and researching. It says that a minister for mental health is expendable, when in reality, we need a dedicated department for mental health more than ever.

With one in four people experiencing mental illness every year in Britain, we are clearly facing a problem of epidemic proportions. There has been some success in the breaking down of stigma surrounding mental health issues, but we still have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to conditions like schizophrenia and types of personality disorders. Physical conditions are still taken much more seriously, despite the high mortality rates of many mental illnesses.

The number of hospital beds available to mental health patients has fallen, meaning that patients are often shunted around the UK for appropriate treatment, and that some of the most vulnerable people in the country, including children, are held in police cells.Waiting lists are so long that many people feel hopeless about ever receiving treatment, and others end up in Accident & Emergency just to ensure that they’re seen by someone. Treatment for eating disorders is patchy throughout the country, with some counties offering no services at all. The pressure on existing services means that many sufferers are deemed ‘not thin enough’ to be taken seriously, although BMI is not an accurate indicator for many types of eating disorder. Mental wellbeing is still not addressed robustly in schools, when this could make a massive difference to the lives of young people. There is no doubt that we need a Minister for Mental Health.

It is, of course, tempting to turn this situation into another stick with which to beat Corbyn. Despite having the largest mandate of any leader in the history of the party, drawing thousands of people to rallies around the country,and seeing 100,000 people join the Labour Party since June 23rd, party MPs and the mainstream media are determined to brand Corbyn a lame duck.

I firmly believe that Corbyn’s hand was forced over this issue, by the mass resignations in the Labour Party. He created the Shadow Cabinet mental health position. I doubt he let it be axed without a fight.

It is undeniable that Corbyn is having to make near-impossible choices in this nightmare couple of weeks. It is my hope that the party will hold another leadership election, Corbyn will sweep another win and the Labour Party will finally get behind their leader. With their support, the much-needed ministerial mental health role can be resurrected and the Labour Party can get on with its work – work that should absolutely include holding the present government to account over broken promises, lack of funding, and the continuing mental health crisis.

Now Corbyn has appointed a Minister for Mental Health, politicians can’t just pay lip service any more

First published by The Independent, 14th September 2015

Soppy liberal that I am, I spent Saturday in a state of euphoric celebration after Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader within the biggest mandate in the history of the party. It’s now Monday, and I’m celebrating again (this time at my desk, very quietly) because one of the first acts performed by Corbyn as leader has been to create the position of Minister for Mental Health.

Luciana Berger is the first person ever to hold this position. There is no counterpart in the Conservative government, and Corbyn’s creation of the role makes a clear statement about how mental health will be treated by the current opposition and the next Labour government.

Berger’s cabinet post means that parties can no longer get away with paying mere lip service to the issue of mental health provision. This year, the Conservatives swept into government promising a further 30bn of cuts across the board and the continuation of the failed project of austerity. By 2017-18 both adult and children’s mental health services will have been slashed by 8 per cent, placing more strain on services that are already ill-equipped to deal with the volume of patients who need help.

Funding distribution is currently in an incredibly unequal state, with mental health receiving just 13 per cent of NHS money despite accounting for 23 per cent of the disease burden. Vulnerable young people experiencing mental health problems have been kept in police cells because there simply aren’t the beds available for them. People are increasingly turning to A&E because they don’t feel they have any other option in terms of seeking mental health provision. Directly after the election, the Mental Health Policy Group estimated that 2 million more adults in the UK will experience mental health issues by 2030.

I voted for Corbyn because he reminded me that the political conversation could be different. His campaign represented a true alternative to austerity. Although Ed Miliband called mental health the “biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age”, his opposition still touted a kind of austerity-lite as their answer. Austerity can never be justified if we care at all about those who suffer from mental health problems. Iain Duncan Smith’s beloved practice of sanctioning – which has affected around 2 million people in the last two years – disproportionately affects those with conditions that are difficult to assess, like mental illness.

With one in four people in the UK experiencing a mental health condition every year, and the current crisis occurring in the mental wellbeing of our young women, mental health is something that we should all be concerned about – whether we like it or not. Even from the most selfish, capitalist perspective, adequate provision for mental health is hugely important because it would help to reduce the £26bn lost to the UK economy every year through work-related mental health problems.

Corbyn’s creation of the Minister for Mental Health represents the drawing of a line in the sand. The Labour party will now stand with those who are sick and suffering, committed with action rather than platitudes. Corbyn’s clear commitment to mental health provision throws light on the inhumanity in the policies of Jeremy Hunt and Iain Duncan Smith. It also gives me, as someone who has struggled with my mental health since my early teens, been hospitalised four times and who still is fighting for a basic review of my medication, a glimmer of hope.

Luciana Berger might have her work cut out in this new ministerial role, but her presence as Minister for Mental Health is cause for celebration in itself.

If British girls’ mental health is at crisis point, why are we still refusing to change our schools?

First published by The Independent, 24th August 2015

Britain’s girls are at crisis point. In terms of their mental wellbeing and self-esteem, this is no exaggeration – and their parents are ill-equipped to realise the signs. Research released today by Girlguiding UK has found that girls as young as seven are experiencing mental health problems, and these issues only grow more common throughout secondary school and into early adulthood.

The findings show that for girls aged 11 to 21, self-harming is one of the biggest health concerns, followed by cyber-bullying and mental illness. Out of the 1,574 girls surveyed, nearly half (46 per cent) reported having mental health issues, while even more (62 per cent) said they knew someone who’d suffered from a mental health problem. These figures should be shocking, but they aren’t, because the pressures facing young women are more pronounced and numerous than ever.

It’s not enough to get a string of perfect GCSEs or A Levels nowadays, you see. You need the Instagram-worthy group of friends, the attentive and good-looking boyfriend, the lips of Kylie Jenner, the curves of Jennifer Lawrence, the doe eyes of Zoella, and the reputation of being sexy and desirable without being a ‘slut’.

If your life isn’t perfectly cultivated online and offline, then woe betide you in a group of your peers. My sixteen year old fears about my MySpace profile not being customized adequately seem positively antique next to current worries about cyber-bullying and the phenomenon of ask.fm, where participants can be deluged in some of the most vile and disturbing anonymous abuse available online. Some of the abuse that teenage girls pile on each other in the virtual world make 4chan look like a unicorn’s rainbow playground.

And it doesn’t stop with aggressive ‘thinspiration’, either. There’s a strong sexual dimension to the online concerns of young women, particularly as many girls are pressured into sending explicit pictures and videos to boyfriends or would-be boyfriends, only to have them widely disseminated online or shared round school. Some girls are forced to disrupt their education and move schools after being publically shamed in this way. According to the same Girlguiding report, in the last week, 75 per cent of girls agree that anxiety about sexual harassment has a negative impact on their lives. It’s a perfect storm of aggression, isolation, harassment and misery.

So where do young girls turn when mired in this high-pressure environment? It seems that our medical services are ill-equipped to cope with the culture we’ve created. Deep cuts (8 per cent in real terms) have affected existing mental health services, despite a 20 per cent increase in demand. Meanwhile, only 13 per cent of NHS funding is allocated to mental health treatment, even though mental illness accounts for more than a fifth of the disease burden. Lack of information in schools, social stigma, long waiting lists, and GPs ill-equipped to spot early warning signs of mental illness are all barriers to young people getting the treatment they need.

We can help our young women. We can do so by opposing further butchering of mental health services by the current government. We can teach girls to mistrust images of perfection, in advertising, pop culture, and on social media, and let them know that from an academic perspective, their best is always good enough. Simple efforts like media lessons that point out how to spot Photoshopping, or expanding extracurricular activities alongside academia, can help to deconstruct poisonous beliefs about inadequacy.

Alongside this, we can campaign for comprehensive sex and relationship education that focuses on consent, respect, and healthy relationships between young men and women to tackle the culture of harassment and sexual abuse that often starts in schools. And above all, we can do what’s truly radical: listen to girls, and believe them when they tell us about their experiences.

Take us with you, Scotland! For too long, London has garnered the lion’s share of exposure, interest and investment

First published by The Independent, 18th May 2015

I sometimes find it fun to imagine that we could cut London out and push it away from the rest of Britain with a big stick. That we could free ourselves from its extortionate rents, non doms, and Conservative majority, and enjoy the abundant pleasures that the rest of Britain has to offer, liberated from the cult of capital obsession. And a change.org petition, now signed by more than 40,000 people, shows that thousands of others share my fantasy.

The petition urges the government to allow the north of England to secede from the UK and join Scotland, and leave the “endless parade of old Etonions lining the frontbenches of the House of Commons” behind.  This ‘New Scotland’ would include Manchester (where I live), Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, York and the rest of England’s northern towns, and the southern border of Scotland would be re-drawn between the mouth of the Humber and the River Dee.

The surge of interest in the petition can partly be put down to widespread anger after the Conservative’s surprise majority, and admiration for the SNP, who took 56 out of 59 seats in the general election. It’s also indicative of how little people in the north of England feel they have to do with the London-centric south.

Manchester is my home, and it’s just as interesting and vibrant as Britain’s capital. I love it for its rich cultural history, its famous nightlife, and the wide availability of chip barms, doused in gravy. It’s big enough to feel exciting and anonymous, without the sense of harsh urgency that accompanies a visit to London. Manchester’s people are friendly, down to earth, and always up for a quick pint after work.  They’re part of a thriving, diverse city, but they’re not afraid of making eye contact on public transport, and they won’t elbow you in the face trying to get on the tram first.

The north is too readily forgotten, particularly by the media who often focus on events in the capital to the exclusion of everywhere else in Britain. On leaving university, relocating to London was considered the ‘done thing’, as nowhere else was perceived to offer any opportunities. If you’re looking to break into journalism, it’s understood that if you haven’t moved to London, you’ve already ruined your chances of success, and I’m sure this is true for other professions too. I’m still considered a bit mad for not living in an overpriced shoebox in London and attempting to write for a living, but the attitude that London is the only place in Britain worth a damn is no more than regional snobbery.

For too long, London has garnered the lion’s share of exposure, interest and investment. It’s only ‘grim up north’ in some areas because they are still suffering from the effects of the Thatcher years when those towns were all but left to rot. The Chancellor’s pet Northern Powerhouse project will undoubtedly offer the north some impressive devolved powers, and may help to redress with economic imbalance between the north and south of England, but does it go far enough? The petition might be a pipe dream, but it’s important to recognise that us northern folk are saying something that’s very real.

We feel more affinity with Scotland than with the suits in Westminster, and another five years of rule under wealthy white men who are only prepared to help out their rich friends in the City of London, is definitely not what we signed up for.

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