MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
Here’s my latest Ham and High column – also available here
It seems like every time we watch the news, we hear about another conflict or incident. And the awful terrorist attacks in Paris were so close to home.
The whole world felt the impact of the horror that unfolded at the Charlie Hebdo office.
But here in Haringey we have a proud history of uniting against violence, hate, and extremism.
Less than two years ago, the community response to the terrible attacks on the Somali Bravenese Centre was overwhelming. We all came together in a show of solidarity – and helped them to rebuild.
Unity is the best way to respond to the atrocities committed by terrorists, and extremism. It’s so important that we don’t allow the politics of fear and hate to creep in.
To be blunt, those seeking to create division are parties like Ukip, who would use the actions of terrorists to create fear and animosity towards certain communities.
I’m proud that my party, the Liberal Democrats, have stood up to Ukip from day one. Our beliefs and values really are the polar opposite of theirs!
But I know it’s not enough to just say these things – politicians, communities, everyone needs to take real action, and search for the right solutions.
That’s why I’m arranging even more local visits to community groups and religious groups, to discuss how they feel about the current situation; ask what they think can be done to stop further attacks, and how to prevent division in the aftermath.
There are going to be difficult moments, and tough conversations. But it’s what needs to happen for us to find an effective, long-term solution to tackling extremism.
This is the harder path. But it will ensure that the voices of all those in our community are heard – that our youth understand the value of engagement over argument.
This is a conversation that needs to be ongoing. We need to build forums and platforms that allow for a continuing discussion in our community about these difficult issues.
I want to hear as many views as possible – if you have thoughts you’d like to share, please contact me. This is a conversation we all need to be part of.
It’s very rare for me to post about Labour literature that’s delivered in my constituency – firstly because it so rarely happens, secondly because I am a Lib Dem!
But here goes. Over the last few weeks, some Haringey residents have received a Labour leaflet on their doorstep. In it, Labour have outlined their ‘tough new approach to immigration.’
So apparently, under a Labour government – people who come to the UK will be treated as second class citizens. Labour will stop people who come here from claiming any benefits for two years. It doesn’t matter if they are a refugee fleeing violence, or someone who has been made redundant through no fault of their own, Labour will seemingly abandon them and let them fall into poverty.
Bizarrely, Labour then turn their fire on nurses and care staff, implying there is a major problem with their language skills – this is despite proof that the NHS and care system would collapse without migrant workers.
Shockingly, Labour have only put this leaflet out in areas where immigration is higher – Bounds Green, Noel Park, Wood Green and Tottenham. They have decided not to tell voters in the far West of Haringey what they really think. Disgraceful.
Here in Haringey, we have a proud tradition of uniting against extremism and the politics of fear. I have always been so proud to represent such a diverse area – there are about 200 languages spoken in my Hornsey and Wood Green constituency. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But instead of upholding this tradition – Labour are pandering to UKIP and creating division. Even neighbouring Labour MP David Lammy has slammed the approach taken by Labour in Hornsey and Wood Green.
Just like one local resident said on twitter: “Immigrants are welcome in Haringey & this leaflet isn’t.” I couldn’t agree more!
Lynne Featherstone MP has today launched a petition in support of the Haringey Lib Dems’ campaign for safer local school crossings.
Recently published figures show that over 40 schools in the borough do not have a pedestrian crossing within 80 metres.
The local Lib Dems are now calling on the Labour-run council to make sure every school in the borough has a pedestrian crossing nearby – so that all children can get to school safely.
Local MP Lynne Featherstone has a strong record of campaigning with residents and starting successful petitions. This year alone, Lynne’s campaigns have secured step free access at Alexandra Palace station and an extra £23.5 million for Haringey’s health services.
Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone said:
“Over 40 schools in our borough do not have a pedestrian crossing within 80 metres of their entrances. This means many parents and children have to cross busy roads just to get to school and back.
“That’s why we’ve launched this campaign for a safe crossing outside every local school. I’m in touch with head teachers and local residents, to gather support for the petition. I hope as many local residents as possible will sign it.”
Cllr Liz Morris, Haringey Lib Dem Spokesperson for Children, comments:
“The Lib Dems believe that every school child in Haringey should be able to cross their road to school safely on a pedestrian crossing. In Haringey we have too many schools where pedestrian crossings are either too far away from the schools or the crossings themselves are poorly sited or laid out – and this puts our children at risk.
“The irony is that Haringey Council actively encourage children and families to walk to school because it is healthier and better for the environment yet many children cannot get to their schools safely.
“Labour-run Haringey Council must prioritise road safety around schools and we are calling on residents and the schools themselves, to support our campaign.”
The Land Registry document for Muswell Hill Library contains what is known as a covenant. The document states that the land ‘shall not (or any part) be used for any purpose other than that of a Branch Public Library or other public non-trading purpose.’
The Lib Dems believe that the document means Labour plans to relocate the library, as revealed in the draft budget for Haringey Council, are not sound.
Local MP Lynne Featherstone has been campaigning to save the library after it was revealed in the draft budget that Labour planned to close the library and move the service to an unspecified location. Ms Featherstone’s petition attracted 1318 signatures in just a few weeks.
The opposition politicians believe that the newly revealed legal document means that any plans to use the library building for another purpose or to sell the site off could be open to legal challenge.
Lynne Featherstone MP, comments:
“Under pressure from local Lib Dems and residents, some Labour councillors are already backtracking and saying that the library will remain where it is. Over 1300 residents have signed our petition, which shows just how much the service means to people locally.
“The discovery of the covenant adds even more pressure on Labour to think again. Local residents, Lib Dem councillors and I will keep campaigning until the plans are officially withdrawn from the council’s budget proposals.”
Gail Engert, Local Lib Dem councillor for Muswell Hill, comments:
“James Edmondson donated the library land to the borough back in the 1890s with the clear intention it should be used for the public good. The site was first used as a fire station and later the wonderful listed building we see today was constructed to give the people of Muswell Hill access to books and learning.
“This legal document clearly states that Muswell Hill Library site should be used for a library. The Liberal Democrats believe that Labour should respect this legal document and James Edmondson’s wishes and keep Muswell Hill Library where it is.”
Lynne Featherstone MP has welcomed news that unemployment in her constituency has halved since 2010.
The local unemployment rate was 5.2% when the Lib Dems entered Government in May 2010. It is now down to just 2.6%.
Youth unemployment in the Lib Dem MP’s constituency has also plummeted – down from 7.1% in May 2010 to just 2.5% now.
The Liberal Democrats in Government have helped businesses create over 1 million new jobs since 2010, and are working to create a million more. A record number of apprentices have also been created, with over 2 million people starting an apprenticeship since 2010.
Figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that the rate of employment is at a record high of 30.8m.
Lynne Featherstone MP commented:
“The recession was really tough – affecting millions of people across the UK. So, when the Lib Dems entered Government, we worked hard to get things back on track. It’s the job of MPs to work with businesses and JobCentres, and help get people into work – and that’s what we did from day one.
“Now, employment is at a record high. It means there are so many more jobs and apprenticeships available, giving everyone the opportunity to find work and get on in life.
“And I’m so pleased that unemployment in my constituency has halved. Over 100 young people attended the apprenticeship event I organised with JobCentre Plus last year – many of them securing places as a result. As the local MP, I’ll continue to hold these events and promote local businesses.”
Final blog from my visit to Burma last week – including meeting Aung San Suu Kyi. Also available here.
Last week I spent 2 days in Burma, the last foreign country I will have visited as the UK’s champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas. And what a fascinating 2 days it was meeting Burmese civil society groups, women’s rights campaigners, government ministers as well as the iconic Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Burmese women suffer discrimination and violence as the direct result of decades of military rule and conflict, and due to widespread displacement. In Kachin State and Rakhine State in particular, there are reports of women and girls being raped, tortured and trafficked. The restrictions on the freedom of movement put on the Rohingya people in Rakhine means they are even more vulnerable to violence – so not only are they ineligible for citizenship, vilified by extreme Buddhists and kept out of basic education and healthcare, they’re trapped too. And Burmese women have little to no access to human rights protection or justice, and they are grossly under-represented in public life. Only 6% of parliamentarians are women and there are very few women at the top table in the national peace negotiations.
So for me, the big questions I wanted to explore in Burma were these: What hope is there for Burmese women and girls from all ethnic groups? Is there any hope that President U Thein Sein’s reforms will include improving their lives?
No one could answer these questions with complete confidence after just 2 days. But what was clear to me is that right now there is a window of opportunity, a moment that could be seized, that really could make a big difference to the lives of ordinary Burmese women and girls. And here is why.
Since 2011, the new government has signed ceasefire agreements with 14 out of the 16 main ethnic armed groups, released the majority of political prisoners (though not all of them), suspended censorship (though not intimidation of journalists), eased internal travel restrictions and endorsed the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), spearheaded by the UK government. Indeed, on Friday I observed a UK Defence Academy training course for the Burmese armed forces, police and senior civil servants on international law including UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
In parallel, civil society is gaining a greater voice in Burmese society. On Thursday I visited a PSVI-funded legal clinic, run by ActionAid, for women who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence. The clinic is training female paralegals to provide legal advice and referrals to victims, and male youth leaders to influence men and boys in their communities to abandon the old ways and respect the rights of women and girls. I met some of these trailblazing paralegals and youth leaders and was so impressed by their dedication and leadership to change Burma for the better.
I also held a roundtable with women’s rights campaigners, including the Women’s League of Burma and spoke with a group of young female peace activists from around the country about their fight for an equal voice in the peace process and political reforms.
More evidence of the window of opportunity for real change in Burma is that an unusual degree of attention is being paid to the international community and Burma’s reputation within it. And there is a lively debate about how the UK should engage with Burma, among people inside and outside Burma.
This was a major discussion point during my meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s most popular, famous and inspirational politician. She is supportive of DFID’s work in Burma, especially our bottom-up approach on working to strengthen civil society and local communities. But she is concerned that the international community is giving too much leeway to the current Burmese government, and I agree that getting the balance wrong is all too easy.
Nevertheless I ultimately agree with the Commons International Development Committee, chaired by my colleague Sir Malcolm Bruce, which looked into the UK-Burma relationship last spring in light of the recent reforms taking place in Burma. The committee endorsed the Coalition Government’s approach of supporting reformers in the Burmese government to raise the country out of poverty, develop the economy and build a society that moves towards democracy.
Overall, all the Burmese people I met had one thing in common – they are all dedicated to making their country a better place for all Burmese people and they are making a noticeable difference. Even “just” breaking taboos and starting a national conversation about gender-based violence is a major step. In a country where most people would say it just doesn’t exist, a national conversation would be an enormous step in the right direction.
Also available here.
My last day in India was spent back in New Delhi and I could write a whole blog just on my first meeting of the day with 10 young people! They’re part of the ‘With.in’ initiative, funded by DFID, which selects 100 passionate young people, mentors them and supports them over the course of 1 year to lead creative projects that challenge discrimination in their communities. Nearly half of these young leaders are women.
One of them, herself the daughter of a sex worker, works with children from red-light districts in Kolkata to break the silence on sexual violence. She uses comic workshops and theatres as a means for the children to express themselves to wider society.
Another was a young woman from Patna in Bihar state who runs a girls club for adolescent Muslim girls, where she works with them to value their worth as human beings and understand their rights.
And another was a young man from Delhi and wheelchair user, who mentors a group of other wheelchair users to challenge perceptions of disability in their community.
I could go on and on about each of these young people, but suffice it to say they were all incredible and humbling. The work they do to challenge the accepted norms and end discrimination in their communities takes tremendous courage and grit. Not least because it has come at a cost to each of them. Some have been practically disowned by their families, criticised or worse by their neighbours or physically threatened and put under police protection simply for asserting that men and women are equal. I salute them and hope their determination never fades. In fact, I’m confident I met some of the future leaders of India among them.
From one group of inspirational campaigners to the next, over lunch I met with a more experienced bunch: 16 leading women’s rights activists, ranging from lawyers and doctors to social workers and communications professionals at the top of their fields, all dedicated to empowering Indian women. We had a lively discussion on a range of issues including the Indian government’s commitments so far on gender equality, the notorious 2012 bus gang-rape, domestic violence, violence in the workplace, gender-based abortion rates, and the linkages between education, sanitation and safety in public spaces.
But 2 things always stick with me after discussions like these. First, the domino effect of women’s reactions to the fear of violence, which impacts on so many decisions women make for themselves and their families. Like whether to venture out at night and whether to take a job that means coming home after nightfall. Whether to go to the market if it’s already too late in the day. Whether it’s just too dangerous to send a daughter to school. Whether it would be better to marry a daughter off earlier in order to protect her.
Second, how no country can afford to relegate gender equality to some niche ‘women’s issue’. Gender equality should be a shared aspiration, with responsibility on both sexes. After all, men and boys are the only people who can end violence against women and girls.
Luckily Ms Maneka Gandhi, minister for women and child development, agreed with me on this latter point when I met her later in the afternoon, and I hope that she can deliver her ambitious agenda of equality measures.
Finally, my last meeting of the day was with campaigners against acid attacks, including an attack survivor. Acid attacks in India are relatively new, and they may be on the rise as they are in other parts of the globe. According to the campaigners, there are acid attacks in India once every 2 days, a truly shocking statistic.
I believe this is one of the worst forms of violence against women – not just because of the multiple surgeries required over years and the exorbitant medical costs that can follow, or the deep psychological trauma they inflict, but also because acid attacks stem from the simple, oppressive idea that women must be punished for rejecting men. The survivor I met was attacked by her neighbour because she rejected his advances. Five litres of acid thrown at her because she bruised his pride.
In the end, the attitude in India about violence against women has really changed in the 4 years between my 2 visits. Because of the horrific Delhi bus gang-rape in 2012, violence against women, especially in the public space, is no longer a taboo subject. The conversation has been dragged out of the shadows and into the cold light of day. This is an important step, but it’s only 1 step. Change on the ground, including implementation and enforcement of the law, must follow soon and for all Indian women, not just for those loud and strong enough to fight for it everyday. India has made such amazing economic progress in recent years by force of sheer will. That same determination and stubborn leadership is required urgently for half a billion of India’s citizens, and the UK will also stand ready to help in any way we can.
I’m now off to Burma for the final leg of this visit. One last update to follow soon.
Great news! Haringey’s health services are getting an extra £23.5 million this year – following our local fairer funding campaign.
It’s a massive 5% increase from last year, and it’s a huge step towards getting truly fair funding for our local services, residents, and health workers.
Take a look at this short video – featuring residents, midwives, a new mum and me. It’s about why I started the campaign, and the impact the extra money will have!
Thank you to everyone who supported the campaign for fairer funding. You can see from the video just how much it means.
And it won’t stop here – I’ll keep campaigning for more money, and the Lib Dems have pledged £8bn in NHS funding during the next parliament.
Also available here.
Yesterday was day 2 of my visit to India on the theme of violence against women, and I spent the day meeting people in some of the poorest areas of Madhya Pradesh. It was an incredibly informative and inspiring day, so I’m afraid quite a lengthy blog follows!
Even though Madhya Pradesh has seen a phenomenal 10% economic growth rate in the last five years, the state is struggling to bring everyone along in this progress. Over 30% of the state’s population live below the poverty line. And what is abundantly clear right across the world is that where there is poverty, violence against women and girls is more likely.
En route from Indore to Bhopal, the state capital, I visited a Dalit community who, like the rest of their caste around India, are socially excluded from their village and wider society on a daily basis. And this exclusion perpetuates their poverty. Discrimination against Dalits makes it far more likely for them to be turned away from government services, even cheated out of land possession and entitlements like ration cards. And when they can access services, they are still discriminated against; Dalit children are often made to sit outside classrooms and are served food separately so that others are not ‘polluted’ by them.
Dalit women and girls often suffer the greatest indignities – most of India’s 1.3 million so-called ‘manual scavengers’ are female. For those unfamiliar with the euphemism, manual scavengers clean up the excrement of other castes with their bare hands to eke out a meagre existence. So I was very keen to meet some of these women and try to understand how they live.
You might be surprised to read I came away with some hope! Thanks to a partnership between the DFID-funded Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) programme and the Jan Sahas Development Society (which literally means ‘people’s courage’), Dalit women are being helped to stand up and demand their rights as human beings. Thousands of families have been helped out of manual scavenging and trained in alternate employment. Jan Sahas also brings violence against Dalit women to the attention of the government and media.
Of course there is a long way to go yet. I spoke with some Dalit women who had been raped by men from upper castes and are struggling to receive any justice. Though they worked up the courage to report the crimes against them to the police, they and their families have been repaid with threats and intimidation, not just by their rapists but the police themselves.
Nevertheless, I found hope in that more and more Dalit women and girls are standing up for themselves and demanding their rights. And when I asked what they thought about their future prospects, it was really heartening to hear a group of Dalit children tell me they were confident their future is going to be brighter than their mothers’.
And all of that was just yesterday morning! I also visited India’s first and only one-stop crisis centre for women, located within a hospital, which brings together medical, legal and psycho-social support under one roof to help women out of whatever emergency they’re facing. I understand the Indian government plans to roll these centres out across the country, which would be an amazing advancement in supporting vulnerable women. I used my meetings with ministers in the state government to say how encouraged I was by progress so far and pressed them to keep the momentum up.
I also spent an hour in a Bhopal slum learning about a safe city initiative to tackle violence against women in both the public and private spaces. Quite rightly, this initiative brings together women and men, girls and boys to make their community safer for all. After all, everyone must be bought in to really make an area safe. So, for instance, the community works together to map areas of the slum where violence has occurred. I also saw demonstrations of inventive ways of engaging boys on the agenda – from a Snakes and Ladder game that challenged social norms about masculinity to a role-play drama about a woman escaping a drunk and abusive husband. And I was shown an innovative, DFID co-funded mobile phone app called SafetiPin that is utilised in Bhopal, which collates information like how safe an area is and emergency locations and numbers, and links to GPS tracking and well-monitored alarm features. I’m sure urban British women would also value an app like SafetiPin!
I’m now back in Delhi for a few more meetings before heading off to Burma. More updates tomorrow.
Local MP Lynne Featherstone will host a conference in February, to raise awareness of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and to discuss how professionals in North London can work together to protect and support vulnerable women and girls.
Professionals from the health, education, safeguarding and social work sectors, along with police and legal representatives, are among those invited to take part. They will be joined by survivors, community activists and local non-governmental organisations.
The conference will be hosted at a school in Hornsey and Wood Green – but is open to professionals and community activists from across North London.
In her role as Minister for International Development, the Liberal Democrat MP launched a £35 million programme to end the unacceptable practice of FGM across the world – within a generation.
Now, as Home Office minister for Crime Prevention, Lynne Featherstone is working to raise awareness, and protect and support girls at risk here in the UK.
Lynne Featherstone MP commented:
“Over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year, and 66,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of FGM.
“That’s why I’ve made tackling and preventing FGM one of my priorities – in Haringey, at the Department of International Development, and now at the Home Office.
“This conference will bring together professionals from across North London. There will be sessions for people in similar professions, followed by mixed sessions – to discuss how people in different sectors can work together to protect and support vulnerable women and girls.
“Any North London professionals who have not yet received an invite, but would like to attend – please do get in touch.”