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Smith Square Review – 25 August 2017

No loco-motives but “women-only” carriages hit the buffers

If the 21st century leaves you stumped for innovative ways to promote gender equality, don’t take inspiration from the 1840s, as new Shadow Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Chris Williamson MP has learned this week.

Despite his good intentions, the member for Derbyshire North has had his fingers burned and officer door defiled after raising the amusingly blinkered idea of introducing women-only carriages to public transport. He has since told Politics Home that these “safe spaces” would merely be the subject of consultation. We’ve heard that before.

This novel solution to sexual harassment has long proven a dud, floated only to then be hastily retracted by several of Chris’s peers. Both Conservative Claire Perry MP (then a junior Transport Minister) and none other than Jeremy Corbyn himself have been through this embarrassment before.

Prominent female Labour MPs including Stella Creasy and Jess Philips have responded that such a policy would be akin to blaming victims for these incidents. Lord Adonis, former Transport Secretary and Labour Peer, called the suggestion “grossly insulting” to women on BBC Radio 5.

Lest we give further ammunition to the somewhat tired ‘back-to-the-70s’ argument, ‘ladies only’ carriages were last seen in the UK in 1977.


Big Ben bonganza

Feel sorry for journalists – it’s deepest darkest August and silly season is in full swing. Yet the heavens have finally opened for parched hacks suffering from the news drought during Parliament’s summer recess.

As part of the on-going renovation of Parliament it was agreed in 2015 that, during the repairs of Elizabeth Tower, the bell known as Big Ben would not ring for four years in order to ensure the safety of those working on the tower. The clock face, however, will still keep time. The last bong was at midday on Monday.

Predictably this event was jumped upon by odd members of the public, bored journalists and attention hungry MPs. Stephen Pound MP shed what he insisted was a real tear when he brought together a group of MPs to stand at the foot of Elizabeth Tower to listen to Big Ben chime for the last time.

It will of course ring for important national events such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday. There’s even a suggestion it may ring on 29th March 2019, in order to meet Downing Street’s commitment that Britain would leave the EU “when Big Ben bongs on midnight”.

Don’t worry though reader, Parliament returns on 5th September, and our journalists may have something actually useful to write about.


Can’t we all just get along?

Newly elected Laura Pidcock, Labour MP for North West Durham, has wasted no time in making a name for herself in her short 2-month parliamentary career. Already a vocal critic of anything Conservative, she this week claimed that her “visceral” dislike of the enemy in blue meant that she could never be friends with a Tory.

Pidcock stated that whilst she represented all of her constituents: “I have no intention of being their friends. We are ideological opponents. It would be disingenuous to suggest I can happily sit there and have light hearted chats with the people who are ambivalent to the suffering of my constituents.”

Joseph Harker, deputy opinion editor at the Guardian, cast the hate-net further still, stating that he’d “try to avoid all those who have cemented the Torification of Britain since Thatcher”, including ‘Blairites’.

Fair enough, you might think. Westminster does breed an adversarial system. There is a government and an opposition – one side has a go, then the other does. But, we currently have a minority Conservative government which, with relatively few defections, can be defeated in the House of Commons, surely Pidcock’s aim. Unfortunately for Pidcock, this will require alliances and potentially even friendships with those across the aisle. After her comments this week, it will be interesting to see how she gets on.


Britain? No thank EU

Immigration-data-release-day is usually a headline grabber. However, when immigration-data-release-day hit the news this week, the usual script was thrown out of the window.

Net migration was in fact down by a quarter, as EU citizens left Britain in the anticipation of Brexit. Indeed, 81,000 less people arrived to live long-term in Britain, putting the net migration figure at its lowest point for the last three years.

The news was met with some degree of trepidation and fears of a Brexit inspired ‘brain drain’. However, the news was worsened by the ONS also confirming that fewer than 5,000 international students stayed on after their visa expired, a figure that was previously estimated to be 100,000.

This 96% inaccuracy had been the focus of government policy towards international students, and helped the government ignore opposing claims that they should be removed from the official immigration target.

We can’t understand why any EU migrant would be put off coming here, though. As is her new catchphrase, Theresa May has been perfectly clear. We’ll be leaving the customs union, though we’ll set up a shadow customs union, and we’ll leave the ECJ, though we’ll set up a shadow ECJ. We’ll also leave the single market, though we’d quite like access to a tariff free European trading zone, and if we’re told to pay a bill on exit, we’ll tell the EU to ‘go whistle’, though we’ll be good British citizens and pay it anyway. Clear?


Souvenir of the week

The USA was lucky enough to experience a solar eclipse this week. Experts say that looking at a solar eclipse without protective glasses could cause serious eye damage. Donald Trump doesn’t have much time for experts.