Dear David Cameron…

(This post first appeared on LabourList.)

Dear David Cameron,

My name is Grace Fletcher-Hackwood and I’m a Labour candidate in Manchester, the greatest city in the world.

You might remember Manchester as the city whose budget you slashed by 21%, causing 2000 job losses, library closures, swimming pool closures, cuts to children’s services, adult services and advice services, to name but a few.

I’m writing in response to your interview with the Manchester Evening News yesterday. I wanted to let you know that you got a few things wrong.

First let’s get one thing straight: Manchester’s local government settlement has been cut by 21%. The Transition Grant you mentioned is just that – we only get it for one year. Manchester City Council’s total government grant for 2012-13, including the funding for the council tax freeze, and including the NHS funding, will be £383.6m, down from £485.8m in 2010-11. That is a cut of 21%. Don’t let Nick Clegg do your maths for you, Prime Minister: you know he can’t count above thirty.

Secondly, Prime Minister, you said that the government has been “absolutely responsible and fair” in your approach to the local government settlement. When I finished laughing – because when England’s fourth most deprived local authority area takes a higher percentage grant cut than Buckinghamshire and Richmond upon Thames, you really have to laugh or cry – I noticed that you backed this up by saying that “Manchester will receive £714 per resident…whereas in my own constituency in West Oxfordshire, residents will receive £233.”

Mr. Cameron – do you think we’re stupid? West Oxfordshire is, jointly, the least deprived local authority area in the country. How many children in West Oxfordshire rely on libraries as their only source of books, or public parks as their only place to play? How many looked after children do you think there are? (450 in the whole of Oxfordshire in 2010, since you ask, compared to 1425 in Manchester.) Mr. Cameron, the people of West Oxfordshire elected you as their MP. You might as well compare Manchester to Mars.

You accused Manchester City Council of timing its redundancy announcement to coincide with the Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election. Do you expect anyone to believe, Prime Minister, that Labour organisers up in Oldham took time out from campaigning to put a call in to Manchester Town Hall? “We’re only going to win by 3500! Quick! Ring Richard Leese and tell him to make two thousand people redundant!” Sir Richard didn’t give a Shapps about Labour’s majority in Oldham, Prime Minister. He was busy trying to protect our city from you. And incidentally, those 2000 job cuts have been made without a single compulsory redundancy.

I think your mistake was in thinking that Manchester and Oldham are basically the same place. And you made that mistake again when you compared us to Trafford.

“Trafford Council is only considering removing 150 staff posts. The vast majority of their savings are coming from efficiencies which will have no effect on frontline service levels…How have they done it? Tough though it is, it’s not rocket science – cutting back office, sharing services, finding smart ways of delivering more for less.”

No, Mr. Cameron, efficiency savings are not rocket science. Manchester has led the way on this – the council has made efficiency savings of £55 million over the last two years, has often led the way in sharing services and, in fact, does all the procurement for Greater Manchester authorities. We also share legal services with Salford. Trafford is following our lead. What’s more, Manchester planned to make £96m savings between 2010 and 2013. But the scale and speed of the cuts you have forced on us have made it impossible to avoid cutting services.

Channel 4 News’ Fact Check blog helpfully pointed out the difference between Manchester and Trafford – Trafford faces a ‘spending power’ cut of only 3.8% this financial year, whereas even by your own figures, Manchester’s cut is well over twice that. Once again, Mr. Cameron, it’s not rocket science: it’s just maths. Manchester and Trafford are not comparable. Anyone in Manchester could tell you that.

Because Manchester people are not stupid, Prime Minister. You can try to blame the council cuts on our chief executive’s salary, but we’ve done the maths: if we could get Howard Bernstein to work for nothing, and then backdate that to the 19th century, we’d be able to make the cuts you’ve demanded of us. Otherwise, not. No: when I talk to people who have been affected by Manchester’s cuts, they are not taken in by the lies that you and Grant Shapps and Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander and Eric Pickles have been telling about Manchester. They lay the blame squarely with the government.

You said yesterday that you are “working incredibly hard to support the poorest paid and the most vulnerable”. Prime Minister, some of the poorest-paid and most vulnerable people in the country live in this city, and what you are doing for them is raising their VAT, putting their children off going to university, damaging their rights at work, restricting their access to justice, closing their libraries, closing their swimming pools, preventing them getting advice, cutting police from their streets – nearly three thousand police cuts in Greater Manchester! – cutting their DLA, cutting their housing benefit, cutting their pensions, cutting their Winter Fuel Allowance, allowing Andrew Lansley to play merry hell with their NHS, and finally, as if all that weren’t enough, Prime Minister, you come up here and you try to lie to Manchester people in our own paper. Manchester has had enough.

Mr. Cameron, you obviously do not know Manchester. But we know you. You are an enemy of the public sector, a Thatcherite and a liar. If you have the audacity to show your face in our city for your party conference this year, you should not expect a warm welcome. But hey – maybe they’ll have you in Trafford.



(Photo by Ed O’Keeffe)

International Women’s Day versus every day

Here’s a slightly unusual admission for International Women’s Day: I don’t have to deal with sexism so much anymore.

I mean, obviously I still have to live in a country where the rape conviction rate is under 6% and the pay gap is more than 21%. And where we’re underrepresented in Parliament. I’d still have my life turned upside down by pregnancy in ways that the man involved wouldn’t. Oh, and I was recently dismayed to discover that despite revelling in my Tory-bashing image, I’m actually physically unable to stand up to male violence. That was fun.

I suppose what I mean is that I don’t have to deal with anti-feminism so much any more. I live in Manchester (feminism’s true home); I work for the CAB, which prides itself on being a few steps ahead of the Equality Bill in theory if not always in practice; and basically everyone I know is a member of the Labour Party or further left (with the usual exception of Cllr Lindley). As a consequence, more or less everyone I socialise with is either proud to call themselves a feminist, or at least broadly aware of the gender inequalities in our society and supportive of moves to end them. (Into this latter category I would insert even Iain Lindley.)

But the internet brings people to your door who don’t always agree with you, and that’s as it should be, despite my #graceblocksTories policy on Twitter. Thus, today, I have not been the only woman I know to have uttered the phrase ‘if one more person asks me when International Men’s Day is, I will scream’.

The glib answer is ‘every day is men’s day’. And when it comes to the recognition of male artists, writers, politicians, sports stars, entrepreneurs, etc., etc., to an extent that’s true. But if I were feeling a bit more angry – and let’s face it, I always am – I might say some other things about ‘every day’.

I might point out, for example, that every day could be a day on which a woman is murdered by her current or former partner, because this happens to two women a week in the UK alone.

Or that, every day, because of the lack of political will by male-led governments, the equivalent of three jumbo jets full of women die as a direct result of pregnancy and/or childbirth across the world.

Every day is when women are forced into having children they do not want or abortions they do not want.

Every day is when teenage boys start to discover that they can use physical strength to hurt, humiliate and control the young women they claim to care about.

Every day is when women put up with sexual harassment at work because they know or believe nothing will be done if they report it.

Every day is when little girls say they want to grow up to be glamour models and little kids of both sexes say it’s acceptable to hit a woman if she doesn’t get your tea.

Every day is when adults join Facebook groups declaring that it’s acceptable to hit a woman if she doesn’t get your tea.

Every day is when a woman somewhere is being hit for not getting the tea.

Every day is when mothers who go out to work still do the majority of childcare and housework. Every day is when the media tells them that this is the fault of feminism.

Every day is when women whose wages paid the mortgage for forty years have to ask their husband for permission to buy a coffee.

Every day is when trans women suffer violence, exclusion and degradation because of who they are.

Every day is when lesbian and bisexual women suffer harassment and discrimination because of who they love.

Every day is when single mothers are treated like the scum of the earth.

Every day is when women feel guilty because they were too drunk to have said no, instead of angry because they were too drunk to have said yes.

Every day is when a woman reporting rape is assumed to have lied; and is laughed at by the police; and is ignored.

Every day is when men get away with rape.

Every day is when women in Haiti face a greater risk of sexual violence in the aftermath of the disaster.

Every day is when women in Bangladesh have to bring up their families in flooded villages, because in the UK we’ve found cutting our carbon emissions just that little bit too hard.

Every day is when any woman, no matter what she does, is defined first and foremost by how she looks. Every day is when she will be accused of ‘playing the sexism card’ for pointing this out.

Every day is when we’re told that feminism is dead, and unnecessary, and embarrassing, because women have equality now.

Every day is when we’re told that women have complete freedom of choice over everything we do, and that the reason so many women make identical choices is down to biology.

Every day is when we’re told that rape is funny, and lesbians are funny, and inequality is funny, and violence against women is funny, and that feminists have no sense of humour.

Every day is when people get more angry about what is done to try to end inequality than they ever got about inequality.

Every day is when the measures that my Party uses to get more women into power are decried as being a tool of corruption. Some days, they are.

Every day is when the women who stand up against all of this are mocked and shouted down and told to shut up.

In short, I think every day is a bit shit. I don’t want to call every day Men’s Day. I don’t think men are shit.

All of these things happen today as well, of course. But I like to think today is a little bit different. Today is the day when we take to our streets and parks and campuses; our desks and counters and bars; our workplaces; our soapboxes and dispatch boxes and ballot boxes; to our blogs and Facebook pages and to Twitter; and we say: every day should be less shit.

We say: we want more than this. We’re not going to vote for this. We’re not going to buy this. And we’re not going to stand for this. We say: we’re not safe and free until every woman across the world is safe and free. We say: the level of violence against women, in this country and elsewhere, is not acceptable. We say our bodies are our own. We say rape is not a misunderstanding and it is not a joke. We say we will not let women across the world suffer for our own consumerism.

We say: no-one defines a family except each family; no-one defines love except the loving; no-one defines a woman except that woman.

And yeah, a lot of us say this every day. But maybe this is one day where we can make you listen. And we’re going to keep saying it until you listen, and we’re going to keep saying it, and keep saying it, until this shit doesn’t happen every day.