Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

my blog
Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary, established 2003

Strikes at our local schools

I’ve sent the following email about the NUT strikes in Haringey to local residents. Any residents who want to let me know their opinions on the strike can do so here

Strikes at our local schools are the last thing we want. Our local children miss out on learning opportunities, and parents have to arrange urgent childcare or take time off work.
 
This is exactly what is happening in Haringey at the moment.
 
The strikes follow the suspension of Julie Davies – Haringey’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) representative. Ms Davies was suspended months ago by the local authority, Labour-run Haringey Council, and a dispute has followed.
 
For a long time, local head teachers expressed concerns about Ms Davies. A week after tensions reached boiling point, Haringey Council suspended her – on grounds of gross misconduct.
 
Haringey Council should have stepped in much earlier and handled this better. 
 
Haringey’s own report (published nearly 2 years ago) said that a large proportion of primary head teachers and all secondary head teachers were deeply concerned about the “unconstructive role played by the main teaching union” and recommended an “urgent need to reconfigure union facilities time to ensure it supports the best interests of children.”
 
This should have been dealt with long before.
 
Instead, the situation has escalated following Julie Davies’ suspension. The NUT has called local strikes, which have already disrupted over 3000 local pupils. This also seems vastly disproportionate, and head teachers are livid.
 
That’s why I have contacted Haringey Council’s Chief Executive to ask for his direct intervention in finding a resolution – in what seems to now be a dispute between the Labour-run council and the Union.
 
Ultimately – I’m sure we all agree – it’s vital that the situation is resolved, and that no more teaching time is lost.
 
If you would like to let me know what you think – please do fill in this survey. I’m keen to hear as many opinions as possible.

 

 

Mon 17 November 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Remembering the journey to equal marriage

Here’s a copy of an article I’ve written for Left Foot Forward on Equal Marriage – the journey to it and what comes next.

On Saturday the 29 March, I went to two fantastic weddings.

On that historic day when all love finally become equal before the law, same-sex couples were able to get married – and hundreds did!

At the second wedding I went to, which had a musical theme, a very poignant video was played before the ceremony. It showed a timeline of the steps towards securing rights for the LGBT+ community in the UK.

It included the marches in the 50’s, 60’s and 70s, the decriminalization of homosexuality and the lowering of the age of consent, and then moved on to adoption rights, civil partnerships and equal marriage.

The video also included some of the setbacks which occurred along the way. The awful Section 28 legislation was introduced by the Conservative government in 1988 and shockingly prohibited “the intentional promotion of homosexuality” by any local authority, as well as “the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

Among other examples, this was a reminder that the journey for LGBT+ rights has not been an easy one – not without setbacks, not without opposition, and not without discrimination and oppression.

But sitting in the theatre in Alexandra Palace (where the wedding was held) surrounded by LGBT+ activists, the very happy couple and their families and friends, it was easy to see how far we have come in the UK.

Marriage is now well and truly equal – open to all couples regardless of their gender.

And that day, 29 March, was a landmark day for me too. It was a long journey, starting when I marched into the Home Office and said to my civil servants ‘’I am going to deliver same sex marriage – and I know it’s not in the Coalition agreement – but it needs doing.’

And the rest is history – literally.

One day, when I am no longer a minister, I will be able to tell the whole story of how the law came to be. But for now I can publically thank the activists, the LGBT+ community, the cross-party group of MPs, the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and others for the support they gave.

And the effect of the change in law goes beyond the ability of same sex couples to marry. The legal change has also, I hope, gone some way into changing attitudes towards homosexuality. The more progress we make on LGBT+ rights, the more equal and tolerant our society will become, as no-one is treated like a second class citizen by the law.

I hope that, as a result of equal marriage law, the young LGBT+ community do not feel that they have to keep their sexuality a secret, or try to hide it – as people in previous generations often felt they had to.

It’s heartwarming now, whenever I speak at an event, when someone (usually a young man) approaches me at the end and says ‘thank you for what you did.’ It’s emotional – I cry, he cries – and we both know that our country is a better place than it was, now that marriage is equal.

And it was of course fantastic on a personal level to recently receive awards from both Pink News and Stonewall, in recognition of the work on equal marriage.

Ben and Jerrys also said thank you by sending me an ice-cream tub with my name and picture on it – one of the most random but wonderful gifts I have received for my work in politics!

But the work certainly doesn’t stop here. While we’ve made huge progress in this country, it was a culmination of a long journey, and there is still a way to go to fully stamp out discrimination.

As we celebrate our victories in the UK we mustn’t forget those LGBT+ campaigners around the world whose situations are still desperate.

From day one of my role as a minister in the Department of International Development (DFID), strengthening the department’s LGBT+ rights strategy was one of my top priorities.

DFID’s strategy has rightly been led by local LGBT+ campaigners in each country, and they asked that we take a subtle approach.

So, respecting their wishes, that’s what I did – I raised my concerns in private with African ministers and prime ministers, and met privately with local LGBT+ groups in country.

The new strategy is about to be signed off to extend this work further. I hope that the UK’s equal marriage law, and our ongoing commitment to LGBT+ rights, will also set a good example for other countries, who are at a much earlier stage in their journeys towards equality.

Fri 14 November 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Minister of State for Crime Prevention

Today, I was appointed as Minister of State for Crime Prevention at the Home Office. You can read more about the changes here.

I am of course sad to leave the Department of International Development – but I also look forward to returning to the Home Office, with a portfolio that covers tackling violence against women and girls and preventing FGM here in the UK.

In my previous role as a junior minister at the Home Office, I led efforts to introduce equal marriage, end the fingerprinting of children and ban wheel clamping on private land.

I have already emailed my constituents to let them know about the change. I’ll continue to update them on the work I’m doing in Government in this new role.

Finally – thank you so much for all the positive comments I’ve received on twitter, facebook and email – very heart-warming!

Tue 4 November 2014 Comments on this post (2)
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Breaking the silence: violence against women in Somalia and beyond

Here’s a blog from my recent visit to Somalia. I went in my capacity as Minister for International Development, and UK Ministerial Champion for tackling violence against women and girls abroad. 

When you think of Somalia, you probably think of Black Hawk Down, Al Shabaab terrorism and piracy. But if you’re born a girl in Somalia, you face so many other risks, both severe and everyday.

Decades of war and humanitarian crises have given Somalia a reputation as one of the worst places to be woman or a child in the world. Girls and women suffer disproportionately from violence and instability. One in 16 women will die during childbirth, and 1 in 10 will die during her reproductive years. Whilst data is scarce, it is thought that 98% of Somali women have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM).

Last week I became the first DFID minister to spend a night in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. I was there in my capacity as the UK’s ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas, as part of a fact-finding and awareness-raising tour to break the silence on an issue that can no longer be taboo. So far my tour has taken me to the United Arab Emirates to tackle the issue of gender-based violence in refugee camps, and I am now in Bangladesh, where two-thirds of girls are married before their eighteenth birthday. All countries suffer from violence against women and girls. We’re all located on a spectrum of violence, and we must help and learn from each other to end it.

Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights. Picture: DFID Somalia
Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights

Back to Somalia. There is a nascent movement in Somalia to end FGM, and the Federal Government of Somalia as well as the governments of Somaliland and Puntland, committed to eliminate the practice at the Girl Summit the coalition government hosted in London in July. But new research suggests that while there is widespread support in Somalia for ending the most extreme and medically egregious form of FGM, known as ‘pharaonic’ ‘type III’ or infibulation, the majority of Somalis still supports ‘sunna’, which can involve anything from a small nick to the full removal of the clitoris, removal of flesh, or stitching. People are also now going to medical facilities to undergo FGM, with the help of health professionals, in the belief it is more hygienic. So we’ve got a long way to go.

Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights and the Gender Based Violence Working Group. Picture: DFID Somalia
Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights 

But my visit confirmed that there is reason for hope. I met ministers, religious leaders, NGOs, men, women and girls who were all committed to ending FGM. Every one of them had the same message: ‘sunna’ is not OK, and they will not have won until they have eliminated all forms of FGM.

I talked to girls from an amazing girls’ club in Somaliland. Formed to provide vocational training and address gender-based violence issues in their community, its members were eloquent and open. They had succeeded in breaking the taboo of talking about FGM – even with the men in their families and communities.

And I heard about Somalia’s efforts to tackle gender-based violence in conflict, including the development of a sexual offences bill.

But one particular issue seems hardest to tackle, and that is domestic violence. It affects so many women across the world: 2 women a week are killed by their partners or ex-partners in the UK, and 1 in 4 women in the UK suffers domestic violence at some point in her life. In Somalia, there are no data on domestic violence, but in a place where the prevalence of FGM is so high, we can assume that domestic violence is happening in everyday life.

Lynne Featherstone visits the Girls' Club which works to increase awareness of the health impacts of female genital mutilation. Picture: Health Poverty Action
Lynne Featherstone visits the Girls’ Club which works to increase awareness of the health impacts of female genital mutilation. Picture: Health Poverty Action

I asked a group of women at a maternal health clinic whether they had suffered domestic violence. Silence. But when I asked whether they knew any women who had been beaten by their husbands, every one of them put up their hand.

The girls’ club told me that the right to beat one’s wife was a widely accepted social norm. But when I asked whether they felt it was a good social norm, they were vehement in their answer: absolutely not.

It’s through young leaders such as these girls that we can really change the future. If these girls refuse to cut their daughters, the cycle ends. If these girls speak out against domestic violence, it can end too.

Through them, we can break the silence, and stop violence before it starts.

Mon 27 October 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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A Tribute to Efua Dorkenoo

Here’s a statement from Jane Ellison MP and me, following the sad passing of Efua Dorkenoo. Also available on Huffington Post.

We learned with very great sadness of the passing of Efua Dorkenoo OBE on Saturday 14 October.

We had the honour of working closely with Efua for some years, and she was deservingly known as ‘Mama Efua’, the mother of the movement against FGM. Efua worked tirelessly for many decades, most recently as Programme Director for the International Social Change campaign, The Girl Generation’.

But Efua’s pioneering work began in the early 1980s and since then, she dedicated her career to the cause, and was a powerful voice for the rights of women and girls, ensuring that FGM survivors and girls who need protection remained at the heart of her life’s work to eradicate FGM.

Her vision and leadership has brought us all to the position today where FGM is recognised as a grave violation of human rights, as well as a health issue with devastating consequences.

Thankfully she lived to see her dream of an African-led global campaign realised.

Efua enjoyed a long and varied career, including working as an adviser to the World Health Organisation. In 1983, her services to women and girls were recognised when she received an OBE (Order of the British Empire). She of course also authored the groundbreaking publication ‘Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation’ (1996).

Efua was a truly inspirational woman, and it was a great honour to work with her.

We will continue to remember her, in our work to achieve her vision to end FGM in a generation.

Surely there can be no greater tribute to her than this – that we work tirelessly to protect future generations of the girls she cared so deeply about.

Our thoughts are with her husband Freddie and her family at this very difficult time.

Tue 21 October 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Tackling FGM and violence against women, promoting LGBT+ and disability rights – Conference speech 2014

This year at Liberal Democrat party conference I gave a speech on the work I’m doing in the Department of International Development. You can watch it in full here:

 

Thu 9 October 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Iraq and ISIL

Here is a copy of the email I sent to residents this morning, asking for their views on Iraq and ISIL. You can let me know your views here.

Parliament has been recalled for tomorrow to vote on taking military action to support the Iraqi government in its struggle against ISIL.

As I write, I have no real detail on what the Prime Minister will lay out tomorrow – other than the Iraqi government has asked for our help in fighting ISIL.

I am clear at this point that helping at the request of the Iraqi government and taking some action in Iraq is one thing – but that any further incursion (for instance into Syria) is not on the table.

The UN estimates that 1.8 million people have been displaced in Iraq since January 2014. These displacements are a direct consequence of ISIL violence, killings, and threats. In addition to the displaced population, 1.5 million Iraqis are considered vulnerable in areas controlled by armed opposition groups. The crisis has affected more than 20 million people across the country.

In the debate tomorrow we will know what the proposition is and will be able to make a better judgment. But for now I am laying down some of my thinking and asking for your views.

I think this is an extremely dangerous moment for us – and all the options are hazardous. Whatever we do – I can see that we are in danger in our own country from ISIL – either as terrorist atrocities here fail to be stopped and / or as reprisals for intervention.

The Liberal Democrat party voted against the war in Iraq in 2003 – but we were in the minority and the UK still went to war. Because of that decision, I believe that the UK bears a huge and particular responsibility for Iraq.

Part of what is happening in the region now can be laid at the door of that disastrous foreign policy.

It is also our responsibility to stop slaughter on humanitarian grounds.

We bear the scars from the last Iraq war. My instinct is to not to want to get involved because of that experience. Equally – I never want to feel that we could have done something to stop the slaughter of innocent groups, but we just stood by.

I am uncomfortable with sitting on the sidelines and letting others do the tough stuff, and staying out won’t protect us. So until the actual proposition and debate tomorrow – we all need to think hard.

I know it is difficult to make a judgment with no details available yet about the proposition – but I would truly welcome your thoughts.

Thu 25 September 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Nick Clegg is 100% right about devolution!

Nick’s written an article on devolution which is 100% right. I couldn’t have put it better myself - which is why I am pasting it below. He says it all!

Within hours of the momentous decision by the Scottish people to remain in the UK, Westminster found itself once again bogged down in conventional party political point scoring.

I have seen for myself the way in which the vested interests in the two old parties can conspire to block reform – scuppering elections to the House of Lords and a clean up of party funding in recent years.

We cannot allow an exciting new chapter of empowerment and constitutional renewal to be held hostage yet again by a Labour and Tory pre-election stand off.

The Conservatives, in their rush to protect themselves from an attack from the right, are only concerned about English votes on English matters. Of course we need a solution to this dilemma but, by appearing to link it to the delivery of further devolution to Scotland, they risk reneging on the commitment made to the Scottish people that, in the event of a No vote, new powers would come what may.

Worse still, if the Conservatives enter into a Dutch auction with UKIP over ever more extreme solutions to the issue of English votes they could jeopardise the Union they purport to defend. Surely we haven’t fought to save our Union in a vote north of the border, only to see it balkanised in Westminster?

Labour, by contrast, appears to have been taken by surprise by the unavoidable consequences of devolving sweeping new powers to Holyrood. They are choosing to ignore the dilemma of non-English MPs taking decisions on purely English issues – as a party with dozens of Scottish MPs they have the most to lose.

So, unless they’re careful, the Conservatives may end up turning their back on Scotland, while Labour ignores England: a recipe for stalemate when we should we working across political divides to renew our creaking constitution from top to toe.

We need action on three fronts.

First, delivering the devolution that has been promised to Scotland. No ifs, no buts. The package of reforms myself, Ed Miliband and David Cameron all committed to must be delivered on time and cannot be made contingent on other constitutional reforms, even as we pursue agreement on them in parallel.

We must deliver further powers for Wales as recommended by the Silk Commission while strengthening devolution in Northern Ireland too. And, on the divisive issue of English votes for English matters, we must start with the work of Sir William McKay, who has already done a lot of the heavy lifting after the Coalition asked him to look at this. Sir McKay suggested a number of ways of giving English MPs a special right to vet legislation where it only affects England, bringing in Welsh MPs where appropriate, in a way which avoids fragmenting the Commons.

Second, we need a much more radical dispersal of power within England.

In Coalition I have been determined that – against all of the instincts of central government – we hand back an array of powers to Britain’s communities and cities. But we need to turn this relationship fundamentally on its head. Currently the best local councils can hope for is to be granted new powers when the government of the day deigns to do so. Instead we must guarantee a new, legal right for local authorities to demand powers – decentralisation on demand if you like – with central government having to meet a much higher threshold before it can refuse.

My aim is a statutory presumption in favour of the decentralisation of powers away from Whitehall. I see no reason why we cannot publish draft clauses for this early next year alongside our other pressing reforms.

Finally, as we move towards a more federal system we will need to codify the division of labour between Westminster and the constituent parts of the UK and set out a clear statement of the values we all share. In short, what amounts to a written constitution.

I welcome Labour’s decision to embrace the longstanding Liberal Democrat call for a constitutional convention – but it needs a precise mandate, beginning next year and concluding in 2017. It should have a Citizen’s Jury at its heart, representing every corner of the UK. One area it will need to address is the future of the House of Lords which, in my view, would better serve people as an elected second chamber, in keeping with federal political systems across the world. Ultimately, however, it will not be up to politicians – this process will be led by the people.

Together these changes will rewire power across the UK. This opportunity cannot be hijacked by old fashioned ya boo politics. It would be a tragic irony if the stale and self-serving politics of Westminster that has fed the appetite for change now frustrates the possibility of radical reform. The Scottish referendum may have come and gone, but it’s legacy of UK-wide constitutional renewal still remains within our grasp.

Sun 21 September 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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MoneyWise Haringey – jobs fair

MoneyWise Haringey is a local project run by the Citizens Advice Bureau, to help people manage their finances.

Alongside advice on saving, benefits, and bills, they have arranged a jobs fair on 1st October. To ensure that everyone gets the most out of the experience, MoneyWise are offering free haircuts and CV training on the day, as well as entering all registered attendees in a prize draw.

I run an annual apprenticeship event (this year’s was at the Civic Centre earlier this month) and so I have seen first-hand how beneficial getting into work is for young people – the boost in confidence, independence, and of course income that work provides cannot be underestimated.

Since the Lib Dems entered government in 2010 youth unemployment in my constituency (Hornsey and Wood Green) has more than halved. Of course we would like to see it fall even further, and so I am delighted that projects like MoneyWise are helping people into work.

The MoneyWise Job Fair will take place from 9.30am on 1st October at 639 Enterprise Centre, High Road, N17 8AA. Directions and advice about what to do before the Fair can be found on the MoneyWise website.

Tue 16 September 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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South Sudan’s leaders must do more to end crisis

Here’s a blog from my recent visit to South Sudan, also available on the Huffington Post.

While the eyes of the world rightly look towards global crises in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine and West Africa, there is a serious and worsening humanitarian disaster almost going unnoticed in South Sudan.

It is deeply saddening to see a country that was once so full of hope for the future, now embroiled in such a painful and destructive war with itself. When I first visited South Sudan less than two years ago I was struck by the optimism and hope that filled the air but today it is an entirely different story.

2014-09-12-SouthSudanLFOct2012.jpg

Since December violence has spread through the country forcing 1.7million people to flee their homes. The conflict between the Government and Opposition party supporters has created in its wake one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Some 400,000 people are now refugees in neighbouring countries, numbers the UN expects to double by December.

And yet the situation could get worse as the threat of famine looms large. This year’s planting season has been neglected by people fleeing their home to escape the violence and aid agencies have warned of the risk of food shortage. Already people are dying from food insecurity and the UN predicts that some 50,000 children could die of malnutrition before the year is out, even before famine is formally declared.

It is an increasingly desperate situation and last week I visited South Sudan to see for myself just how severe it is. It is clear that even now there are already chronic food shortages. At an International Rescue Committee nutrition centre in Ganyliel Town, I saw many children suffering from malnourishment. I met a young mother whose infant child was severely under-nourished and had severe medical problems. Her struggle to feed her child with the limited supply of food available to her was deeply moving.

2014-09-12-SSudanrefugeeEthiopiaPWiggersUNHCR960.png

The UK has contributed £125million to help those caught-up in this crisis. This includes £30 million I announced during my visit for refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries. This will help deliver food, shelter, basic hygiene needs, safe water, immunisation and essential supplies such as mosquito nets, kitchen sets and fuel. But the UN’s Crisis Response Plan remains under-funded, and we desperately need other donors to contribute more too.

The truly appalling tragedy about this crisis is that it is wholly man-made. Ultimately aid cannot fix the problem, only help deal with the consequences. South Sudan’s leaders must accept full responsibility for starting the conflict and now must work to end it. Politicians need to honour the agreements they have already made, but ignored, to stop the fighting. These were the messages I delivered to the South Sudanese Government during my visit, and which they and leaders of the armed opposition need to hear loud and clear from us all.

Sun 14 September 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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