Tag Archives: elections

Through a Child’s Eyes

Right now I’m home-home… in Malawi for a family Christmas. I’m back in my old room, that repository of my childhood and coming-of-age, surrounded by the bric-a-brac of my life pre-London. There are old trophies, posters, bits of poetry and my diaries, including one that I wrote when I was 11. It has details of schoolwork, friendships, fights (girls love a good bust-up) and adventures, mostly on my bike.

But interspersed with updates on my baby brother’s progress (he’s sitting! He’s grown a tooth! He’s walking!) there is a thin sliver of my country’s story. On my list of things to look forward to in 1994 I had multiparty elections at the the top of my list. In passing, I mention an army strike, the President getting seriously ill, conceding the elections, and our first democratically elected president under a multiparty system. It’s all in the background, the backdrop to a breathless account of an 11 year-old’s life. I don’t remember all of the details, but I remember the tangible feeling of excitement in the air and the sense that voting was an amazing, transformative, special thing. It’s part of the reason that I always do.

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The UK Map of White Male Power

I have a lot of time for Ampp3d, the Mirror’s witty, data-driven blog. They’ve compiled a map of UK White Male Power, looking at the representation of women and ethnic minorities in parliament over the decades.

“Has your area of the UK ever elected a minority candidate? Or a woman? Odds are that the answer is no. Default man – aka a white man – is likely to have been in power there every year since the 13th century.” – Ampp3d blog

Things I learnt:

  • The first non-white MP was elected in 1892
  • The first woman MP was elected in 1916
  • Out of the UK’s 650 parliamentary constituencies, 320 of them have NEVER had a woman and/or a person of colour as their MP.
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Big Men

One of the best articles I read last week was from Business Day Live, on the subject of Africa’s Big Men, and how African civil society is beginning to assert itself. It’s a twist on the usual diagnosis of Africa’s problem with Big Men, and I think it hits the nail on the head regarding the issues of weak governance and rule of law, which create the environment in which Big Men flourish.

“AFRICAN “strong man” leaders are not the cause of Africa’s problems — they are symptoms. And some African citizens may slowly be fixing the problem and its symptoms.”

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Lies and Diversity

Damn Lies

Considering that we’re in the fact-free immigration summer (albeit somewhat off the agenda at the moment given Gaza, Iraq and other foreign crises), you’d think more lies on top of the heap of mendacious government spin wouldn’t make a difference. But then, there’s Iain Duncan Smith. Every time he speaks out I am horrified afresh. Despite the overbudget, overdue computer system, despite welfare sanctions harming the most vulnerable and disabled, despite the fact that his project is more ideology than reality-based – he has survived a reshuffle and sails resolutely on, the wind of self-righteousness swelling his sails.

Most recently, he doubled down on the welfare reforms, praising the “recovery” that has more jobs but lower pay, and more insecure work bolstered by zero hours contracts, some of which actually prevent people from taking on other work but offer them no guarantees for the week, so you could make money to pay the bills – or not. Who knows? Scarily, the government will make even more cuts in the next parliament.

But what drives me crazy is the fact that Duncan Smith is rarely challenged on his fantastical statistics. Thank goodness, then for Polly Toynbee (read the whole article, it’s worth it, but here’s an extract)

“Politicians may deal in terminological inexactitudes, but I can’t think of many black-is-white, war-is-peace practitioners as downright deceptive as Iain Duncan Smith. Originally, the question was whether to put it down to simple stupidity, as he didn’t understand that the numbers he promised were impossible. Yesterday, poring over his big speech on welfare reform, a few of the more polite experts spoke of his “magical thinking”. But his motives and state of mind hardly matter to the millions affected by his evidence-free, faith-based policy-making.”

Diversity Hire

As always, Hugh Muir can be relied upon to excavate the Sayeeda Warsi resignation and tease out the nub of the issue of diversity in the workplace – it’s not enough to get brown faces at the table if you don’t listen to them. Of course, that doesn’t mean you do everything they say, but if you don’t get a decent hearing, get taken seriously, or if your views are dismissed out of turn, then of course, after a while, you give up.

And that’s not just a personal loss, the organisation loses out too. The point of getting more varied voices around the table is to have a better conversation and to effect change. And for political parties it’s not just electorally expedient to do so (Janan Ganesh makes this point brilliantly in the FT), it’s morally right to better reflect the country you may govern, with all its different constituencies.

“She brought diversity to government, not just because she is brown-skinned, northern and Muslim, but because her background and experiences gave her a different worldview. Diversity has to mean something other than different hues and genders around the board or cabinet table. It is also about the infusion of different perspectives from which new options and thinking might emerge.”

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On Voting

1994. I was about 12 years old. Two images stand out in my mind: news reports of Black South Africans standing for hours in the hot sun, many under umbrellas, waiting to cast their vote. Young born-frees and older people who never thought they’d see the day that they would be able to vote. The second image is my father, visibly moved and sitting beside our beautiful old wireless radio in the living room, listening to Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda conceding Malawi’s first multiparty democratic elections. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew that there was something immensely significant about the claiming the right to vote. It mattered.

It still matters. The odd thing is, the people in the UK who really need the political system to respond to their needs (the young in particular) don’t really turn out in force. As a result, the system is skewed to those who still do: the old. I don’t believe in generation wars, but it’s a fact that if you don’t turn out and get heard, you’re more likely to get overlooked when it comes to policy decisions and cuts.

The marvellous Sofi Taylor has written a great blog for Migrant Voice on what sorts of questions to ask on the doorstep if you care about migrants and immigration. Crucially, it’s a reminder that migrants need to make their voices heard too.

Just do it. Because you’re worth it.

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Open Generation

Last week, I participated in a dynamic, challenging event on immigration and the younger generation, organised by Open Generation, part of the Migrant Rights Network.

Here is the video live stream of the event.



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