Thursday, 28 February 2013

Getting a little too personal with the phone company...

Customer service representatives at O2, one of the competing telecommunications providers here in Britain, have shown blatant disregard for customer privacy. My friend Briony has been embroiled in an increasingly one-sided Twitter war after receiving an unsolicited phone call from the customer service department. Unsolicited calls are annoying enough but can be quickly dispatched if you feel your time is being wasted. However, in this instance, the customer service rep told Briony about the possibility of a better deal.

Refreshingly cynical, Briony asked if she was being data-mined or whether there was a genuinely better deal to be had. Apparently there was a better deal to be had, but she was told she could not be informed about the details of the upgrade unless she went through a security screening process. As it was an unsolicited call, Briony had no idea whether it was a genuine call from O2 or not. Briony is not an idiot, gullible or naive, and, as such, she did not give out personal details over the phone to a stranger who called her out of the blue.

A Twitter discussion ensued in which Briony was told she would have to give over personal information in order to hear the best offers for her account. There was, however, no explanation as to why O2 cannot offer proof that it is a genuine customer service call.

Briony also tried to access this very blog yesterday but O2 had blocked her from accessing this "over-18 site" (I had no idea this blog was so saucy but I digress...). Briony is 40 and O2 already have her date of birth, but they want to charge her another quid to lift this block.

Respecting customers who request email contact rather than phonecalls is also important. There is no reason why a customer cannot be made aware of special offers by email. In Briony's case, she was told via Twitter to change her preferences to "email only contact." Turns out, she had already done that before the calls started coming in.

Today she received a second call from someone at O2 who only identified himself as "Moh", but Briony cut him off before he could ask for any personal details. The number that came up on her phone, 0800 064 1087, is indeed a genuine O2 number, but this does not excuse the fact they've ignored Briony's preference for email contact only or the request for personal and password details over the phone.

Asking for personal details from a "valued customer" before offering information about a better deal is completely absurd. How does this fit in with O2's privacy policy? Quite well, it would seem. Alarmingly, the privacy policy is very rubbery indeed. It says quite clearly that O2 can request "personal details about yourself, including but not limited to when you:

1. purchase products or services from us whether in store, online, by phone or elsewhere;
2. register to become an O2 customer;
3. submit enquiries to us or contact us
4. enter any promotions, competitions or prize draws via the Services;
5. use O2 products and Services;
6. take part in market research; and/or
7. when you terminate your account with us.

The " including but not limited to" clause seems to have given O2 free rein to ask for personal details during the course of an unsolicited customer service call which ironically seems to have been made with the intention of keeping Briony's business.

If someone from O2 would like to respond to this situation, please contact me via this blog or feel free to comment at the end - the right of reply is always welcome here at The Rant Mistress. It would appear an urgent change in policy is required or else there may be a rapid loss of customers.


I have received a response via Twitter from O2 via the @O2 account:  Hey Georgia, we're picking this up as we speak. We can assure you that there is no failure in privacy though.

This is indeed a baffling response. Imagine if other businesses refused to share information about special offers until personal details were shared. "I'm sorry, madam, but Sainsburys cannot possibly tell you any more about that special offer on the tinned tomatoes until you share some personal details with us...".

Now whoever manages O2's social media has shared this Tweet with Briony and I:

  Of course, it's straight forward, but we can understand her concerns and appreciate the nature of this.

Briony is not taking this lying down and has responded thus:

  How can ignoring my personal preferences & being called on consecutive days about same thing be 'straight forward'?

O2 has now requested more information from Briony about the situation than can be squeezed into a 140-character tweet. Stay tuned for more updates as they come in.

And we have a further Twitter exchange between Briony and O2.

First, O2 responds to Briony's questioning of the use of the term "straight forward":

 The issue itself is straight forward, however we totally agree, to help your concerns we needed to act quicker, we're sorry.

And we have a magnificent response to all this from Briony:

  Agree it should be faster but frustrated you have DM me requesting personal mobile number - are you being ironic?

Briony now seems to be trapped in some sort of surreal circular logic nightmare as the conversation moved off Twitter and into direct messages. She has been told by O2 that they can tell her the reasons why all this happened without her supplying her phone number but for them to fix the issue, they need her phone number. Which is weird given they have already called her on her phone number as they are her phone provider.

It is baffling although possibly unsurprising that it has reached this point without O2 admitting any fault in the first place or starting by offering to fix the issue. This takes me back many, many moons to my days at Pizza Hut when I was a student. We were told that when a customer makes a complaint, the first thing to do is to offer to fix the problem and ask the customer what can be done to make the situation better. That is the starting point, not the end of a tiresome online discussion.

Briony has just tweeted this:

  Thanks 4 admitting that O2 needs to fix issue, that is something, as your cust service denied call took place yesterday

It is not surprising that Briony is now losing the will to live as O2 keeps on asking for her number. She has asked them, quite reasonably, "when you say 'fix the issue', what will you be doing exactly. My preferences are set to email only contact."

O2 has informed her that they want to make sure her preferences are indeed set to "email only". They have also said they want to "feedback your experience to the relevant people so any training needs can be addressed."

Disturbingly, "feedback" is now a verb...

An exsperated Briony has reiterated that her experience has not been good and she has tweeted the following:

  indeed if an honest approach had been taken yesterday, we would not currently be at this juncture.

We are still no closer to finding out why O2 thinks it is not a privacy failure to ask for personal details before sharing information about special offers with a supposedly valued customer or why they ignored her preference for email only contact to begin with, or indeed why they locked her out of an over-18 site when they know she is 40 years old...

Briony, like me, tries to maintain a zero tolerance of idiocy policy. As such, she has tried to cut out the frustrating 140-character direct message conversation she has been having with O2 all day and has now offered them her email address in an attempt to have a proper discussion. Stay tuned...

And the madness continues as she is asked, via a Twitter direct message, for her Twitter ID... O2 has her email address so there is no reason why the conversation cannot be conducted by email now. Apart from "Moh", she has not been given the name of anyone at a senior level in customer service or the social media manager.

Oh, and we're still no closer to finding out from O2 why personal details are necessary in order for someone in "customer service" to share information about special offers with an existing customer. Or why Briony was called out of the blue when her preferences stated "email only contact". Or why she was locked out of an over-18 site when O2 knew her birthdate. None of this has actually been resolved.

And in news just at hand from the frequently fabulous Lady Chappers Twitter account, it seems O2 is not alone in ignoring customers who set their preferences to "email contact only." She has just sent me this missive about Three:

 It's not just O2. I was getting up to three unsolicited calls/day from  despite being set to email only. Pure spam.


It would appear it's not just Briony who is having trouble accessing my blog. Another two people have just alerted me to O2 blocking them from this apparently scandalous Over-18 website. This is his Tweet:

 I tried to read it and got this. Censorship?

And here is another:

 Just tried to visit yr blog on O2 wifi in Brum. They've blocked it like a porn site.  < wankers

Here is the a screen grab of the message O2 customers are receiving when they try to click on my blog:

I can only assume it is the word "mistress" in the blog title that is setting off O2's pearl-clutching filters. Despite the fact that Briony, Marcus and Barry are all over 18 and O2 would have their dates of birth on file, they are still content to charge £1 to unblock my site. In fairness to O2, they will very generously credit £1 back to their mobile bills.

Why would they block anything on the phones of adults in a supposedly free society?

I have received these tweets from Mark telling me he has had to verify his age four times in person because he doesn't have a credit card:

 I've had to get my age verified FOUR times now. Each time at a shop because I only have debit not credit card.

  Fed up with dealing with them. Just marking time until I can end the contract.

With many thanks to Jamie Smith, who tweets as @JamieSmiff, I have now discovered O2 implemented this ridiculous policy in March 2011. That still doesn't make it right or explain why my blog is considered adult content. I can only assume this is because of the word "mistress" in the blog title. In any case, it reminds me of the absurdity of internet censorship that I experienced when I worked for five years in the United Arab Emirates.

And in further news, O2 has just opened up my blog for Barry Butler after he opened a can of whoop-ass via Twitter:

  Fuck me. They just opened it up again. Result.

However, this was not before O2 suggested Barry call an expensive number to discuss the situation...

 Just had an email from u re my feedback. U want me to ring a premium number 0844 463 2625. You are taking the piss now.

Now, according to O2, this site was not blocked

 We've not blocked the site, we've checked and it's listed as a blog, can you screen shot any error messages please?

But Barry begs to differ:

 It wasn't an error message. It was your usual WiFi block. As you know. It's gone now. Being Big Brother doesn't suit. 

Barry has shared with me the message he received when he tried to access this blog:

Marcus Boothby-Lund tweeted me last night to tell me that my blog had been unblocked:

 oh and I can now read your filthy scribbles, unblocked 

And today, I am blocked again with the same warning as last time:

 it's blocked again ffs 

Michael K B tweeted me this on O2's lack of trust in adult customers:

 I guess humanity isn't trusted by multinationals. Which is ironic considering where their ££ come from

In the meantime, I have called out O2 on why they feel the need to censor internet access for adults and I got this response:

 Sorry you feel that way, lots of parents have contracts for there children, we have to do all we can to safeguard.

Won't someone think of the children? Yes, how about parents think of the children. It is perfectly fine to limit internet access for underage users and O2 offers a Parental Control function so that parents can be parents and take some responsibility for their kids' internet usage. This is surely enough without censoring access for adults and making them jump through cumbersome hoops every time they are hit by the O2 ban-hammer.

Image courtesy of

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

"I saw your boobs!" "I saw the Outrage Olympics!"

The internet is still buzzing over whether Seth MacFarlane is a hate-filled misogynistic pig after his turn at hosting the Oscars the other night. In particular, the "I Saw Your Boobs" song has attracted much outrage. That'd be the pre-recorded stunt in which Naomi Watts and Charlize Theron, two of the actresses named in the song, were willing participants in the joke.

The overwhelming reaction to this song was a festival of missing the point. As Seth MacFarlane and the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles tunefully rattled off a litany of silver screen breast appearances, pearls were clutched all over the place. Special outrage was saved for his name-checking of actresses who showed their breasts while playing characters who were raped.

Was I the only person who saw this as a satire on the rationalisation process actresses go through when they appear nude on camera for serious roles? How many times have we heard actresses say with a perfectly straight face that the nudity was essential to the storyline or the development of the character? It's artistic nudity as opposed to X-rated movie nudity, so the narrative goes. And, just as the "I Saw Your Boobs" routine demonstrated ironically, it's seldom career suicide to go naked for a serious role. The song listed amazing performances by talented actresses who are clearly valued for more than their breasts.

When I worked at FHM in Australia, the "would you go nude for a role?" question was asked of pretty much every actress who appeared in the magazine when they appeared for a shoot in either lingerie or a bikini. Even a ditzy soap opera star who was hardly likely to end up in a remake of Monster's Ball would give the cookie cutter "If it's appropriate for the role..." answer.

It's certainly more refreshing to hear about actresses who question the need for nudity and have won the battle to not get their breasts out. In today's Metro, Mia Wasikowska says that she has indeed turned down nude scenes and questioned their relevance to the script.

Actresses who chooses to go nude for a scene of sexual abuse don't do it to titillate the audience. But once that scene is out there, there is nothing to stop moviegoers from being aroused even if it is a thoroughly traumatic scene. As such, supposedly high-end men's magazines, such as GQ, have run galleries of breasts in movies and there are countless websites and forums dedicated to leering over naked actresses and flagging up films that feature breasts, bums and vulvae.

No actress has ever said: "Yes, I got naked because I knew it would get bums on cinema seats, turn people on and make the studio pots of money." but that doesn't stop some people from seeing movies because they want to see breasts. People can be creepy.

Perhaps now we can have a conversation on why breasts even need to feature in rape scenes at all. These scenes are always hard to watch, and the sounds and facial expressions of both victim and perpetrator can speak volumes without anyone's private parts being exposed. Such a conversation sounds like a rather po-faced outcome of a comedy sketch, but comedy should exist as a catalyst for serious discussion.

It is stunning that the joke needs to be explained. Did everybody miss the irony of a group of gay men singing about the joys of seeing boobs? Yes, it was a bit puerile but taking the piss out of the earnestness of actresses who've gone nude is a perfectly valid topic for satire. The mention of us seeing Scarlett Johansson's boobs on our phones was a bit unnecessary as that was breast exposure without her consent, but the rest of the song's content was fair game.

Are you wondering why the song wasn't called "I Saw Your Dick"? Off the top of my head, I can recall seeing three actor penises: Harvey Keitel in The Piano, Kevin Bacon in Wild Things and Michael Fassbender in Shame. That is three penises since 1993. Or an average of one cinematic willy every 6.666 years.

There's a gender divide in getting naked to get credibility. That is absolutely worth a spot of satire at the annual festival of frocks, red carpet body snarking, insincerity and nauseating self-congratulation.

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The woman with a womb like a clown car: a conundrum for the left and the right

Heather Frost. Mother of 11 to three different fathers. Benefits claimant. She who is getting a £400,000 house - always called a "mansion" by the likes of the Daily Mail - "built for her". She who sluttishly spends her welfare cash on a horse, multiple pets and flying lessons. It's easy to see why the tabloid press is having a field day with this woman.

Now that she has recovered from cervical cancer, she has been rendered sterile. This has been described by her father and others as a "blessing in disguise". It is also the reason why she has been unable to work for the last two years, but it's easier to demonise a cancer patient than express gratitude for living in a country where she was able to access treatment and not deprive her kids of a mother.

One of her daughters told the press that she is a good mother and that seeing her raise 11 kids has actually put her off such prolific breeding. If that's not a lesson learnt that should appease the tabloid disciples, I don't know what is.

It's easy to demand to know why she didn't avail herself of birth control, available for free in Britain, without knowing her medical history. It's easy to call her a slapper. Indeed, one of her neighbours was quoted as saying she treats her womb "like a clown car" - it's the kind of line one can imagine Estelle Costanza on Seinfeld using and it does conjure up a mental image that is awful and comical all at once.

Hell, it's always easy to make this all about the woman and her uterus and for nobody to question why the three men who fathered the children do not appear to be taking any responsibility.

Because it's simpler to make it the woman's fault. Just as unsavoury elements of the prolife movement think a universal "well, if women would just keep their legs shut" policy will render abortions unnecessary, it's always easier to slut-shame the single mother and let the father off the hook. As if all single mothers are reckless, feckless temptresses luring unsuspecting men into their bedrooms so their greedy wombs can take in lashings of semen.

Heather Frost's story troubles elements of the left and the right. She poses an intriguing conundrum for both the prolife and prochoice movements, for example. It would appear she truly chose to carry all 11 pregnancies to term and she has been quoted as saying she is opposed to abortion. But vocal elements of Britain's prolife movement, such as Nadine Dorries and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, (SPUC) have not hailed her as a heroine for "choosing life" 11 times.

Frost's story does not fit the welfare-cutting mantra of social conservatives, even those who are doing their best to reduce access to abortion in Britain. Nor does the Frost example offer a rosy picture of family life as per the SPUC narrative in which every woman who carries unplanned pregnancies to term has an endlessly joy-filled existence. The woman who has become a pariah in her own street and publicly slagged off by her own father is not likely to become SPUC's poster girl any time soon.

It certainly would have cost the British taxpayers less if she had multiple abortions instead of claiming benefits for the last seven years, but true prochoicers acknowledge that the choice to carry to term is just as valid as the choice to have an abortion. Plenty of prochoicers fly the flag for population control, but taking that to the extreme and advocating for a state that tries to dictate how many children people should produce is a troublesome stance for anyone who supports reproductive freedom.

Trying to police family size is a theme that crops up with both the "if you can't feed 'em, don't breed 'em" crowd and fans of the one-child policy of China, a state that is frequently cited as an example of the evil left (despite the rampant capitalism and business opportunities this enormous and growing economy is offering). There is much awkwardness all round and, as a result, Heather Frost has been reduced to a sideshow freak with an obscenely prolific uterus.

But the whole circus is a moronic distraction.

The outrage is disproportionate. Of the 1.35 million families in Britain where at least one adult claims benefits, only 190 of them have more than 10 children. Heather Frost is in a tiny, tiny minority - just 0.014074% of the families on benefits. The majority of Britain's welfare budget is spent on the elderly, but it'd be political suicide to cut too deeply into the pockets of OAPs (except for those who fancy using a library once in a while...).

Tragically, this overblown outrage detracts attention away from the kind of things over which we should be marching on Westminster on a daily basis, such as killing off tax credits for workers, making unemployed people pay council tax, removing housing benefit for people under 25, the spare room tax, a rising deficit, mounting debts, pitiful economic growth, a taxation system that favours the wealthy, the incompetents of G4S running sexual assault referral centres, and the dismantling of the NHS. There are no prizes for guessing who might be pleased if Heather Frost is demonised.

Image courtesy of

Monday, 25 February 2013

The Rant Mistress! Now guest-blogging for MoronWatch!

I am delighted to report that I have started guest-blogging for MoronWatch. Follow MoronWatch on Twitter - @moronwatch - and thrill to the spectacle of conversations with some of the most stupid people on the planet.

Click here and you can read my debut post for MoronWatch, in which I offer a few reasons as to why Boris Johnson is not hilarious, is not a national treasure and shouldn't be the mayor of London. I focused on his pathetic environmental record, which largely consists of wasted money, giving rich people but not hybrid cars a Congestion Charge exemption, offering a grand plan that won't come into effect for another seven years, increasing public transport fares, oh, and some bikes.

In the interests of not taking up too much room on a blog onto which I was graciously invited, I didn't even touch on his abysmal record and asinine policies on housing, the expensive white elephant that is the loss-making Emirates cable car, neglect of south-east London, a cancelled bridge and a cancelled DLR extension.

I have already been called a "guest fuckwit" as a result of this post and a Boris Johnson fan girl has trolled me on Twitter. What fun!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Off with her head! Behold, it's Hilary Mantel hysteria!

Beheading people for treason isn't really the done thing in Britain these days. It is mildly terrifying that the last person executed in Britain for treason was not so long ago - it was William Joyce, hanged in 1946, the year my father was born. But even though treason is still an offence here, surely we are not interesting in reverting to the dark days of calling for people's heads to be severed from their necks. Or are we?

Given the kneejerk public reactions to the abysmal reporting of Hilary Mantel's erudite, fascinating and articulate London Review of Books Winter lecture, I am not so sure we have moved on from an era of hysterically waving pitchforks and wanting to see blood spilled as judicial entertainment.

The lecture, entitled Royal Bodies, actually took place two weeks ago so the journalists of the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Independent and Metro were not exactly on the ball. But a 5,000-word lecture, with all its nuances and historical context, does not make for a sexy news story. It is far easier to lazily pick the eyes out of the lecture, offer quotes out of context, get a shedload of easy hits to your website and watch as the easily outraged readers believe the shoddy journalism. Hell, it's not as if they're going to bother to read or hear what Mantel had to say.

And because Mantel dared to mention that most pristine and sacred of all media cows in her lecture, the Duchess of Cambridge, it was so easy to set her up as an object of hate. The lecture was an attack on the obsession by the media and the public with not just the body of Duchess of Cambridge but the bodies of royal women throughout the centuries. The fascination over whether Anne Boleyn was going to produce a male heir for Henry VIII in the sixteenth century is no different to the womb watching that Kate has to endure.

Of course, reading Mantel's well-written words was too hard for the foaming-at-the-mouth masses. It was far easier to look at the photo of Mantel, juxtaposed beside a winsome shot of the Duchess, and conclude that she is fat, unattractive and jealous of Kate's body and marriage. 

Never mind that Mantel has publicly spoken about her battle with endometriosis, a condition which has left her overweight and infertile. Never mind that she is the patron of an endometriosis charity. Never mind that she speaks with humour and grace on the trials and tribulations of being a large woman in a world were the sylph-like are worshipped. Never mind that Mantel has been married since 1972. It is clearly a resilient relationship - the marriage ended in divorce in 1979 but the couple then remarried. If Mantel was truly snide and vile, she might have alluded to the fact that she worked on her own marriage and gained a stronger relationship as a result, unlike many a disastrous royal union.

But in the minds of the angry mob, her only motivation for saying anything remotely critical of the saintly Duchess is jealousy and hatred. 

Even David Cameron felt the need to weigh in from India. Like almost everyone else who has shot their mouths and keyboard fingers off today, he obviously didn't bother to find out exactly what Mantel said and instead rose to her defence like a pathetic, populist knight in shining armour.

And then Ed Miliband took time out to defend Kate. Seriously, Ed, come on. There's an NHS to defend but instead, he also jumped aboard a populist steed of his own, donned the armour of lameness, and said: "These are pretty offensive remarks. I don't agree with them." Oh, and he added the usual mindless twaddle about how hard the Duchess works.

Have we reached a place where only thin, pretty women married to princes are allowed to comment on thin, pretty princesses? The furore echoes the sexist attempts to silence the brilliant Professor Mary Beard simply because she expressed a mildly controversial opinion and doesn't live up to some ridiculous standard of female hotness.

The defenders of Kate's virtue clearly didn't read to the very end of Mantel's piece because then they might have realised that she was calling for kindness towards the Duchess, for us to not be so obsessed by her body and the contents therein. 

In the last paragraph, this is what Mantel wrote: "We don't cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them them, and we did memorably drive one to destruction a scant generation ago. History makes fools of us, makes puppets of us, often enough. But it doesn't have to repeat itself. In the current case, much lies within our control. I'm not asking for censorship. I'm not asking for pious humbug and smarmy reverence. I'm asking us to back off and not be brutes."

You'd be hard pressed to find a more eloquent way to tell the media and the public to not behave like voyeuristic dickheads where royal bodies are concerned. But you'd have to read 5,000 words, many of them with more than one syllable, to find this eloquence. Nah, it's much easier to simply swallow the moronic hysteria generated by lazy journalists and slag off the fat woman instead.

Image courtesy of

Monday, 18 February 2013

The homophobic agenda of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children

We have freedom of expression and freedom of association here in Britain. As such, if a group of people want to start an anti-abortion organisation, that is completely fine. I may not agree with their ideas but I wholeheartedly support their right to exist and speak out.

But freedom of expression works both ways and as such, I'm calling out the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) on their latest antics. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has recommended that same-sex couples be offered artificial insemination on the NHS for six cycles, and if that fails to produce a foetus, to move on to IVF.

SPUC's communication manager, Anthony Ozimic, has spoken out against this recommendation (remember, people, it is a recommendation, it is not a law...): "This decision ignores biology in the face of politically correct social engineering ... Same-sex couples do not have fertility problems, they have chosen a naturally non-fertile lifestyle, and we shouldn't be spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on fertility procedures for people who do not have fertility problems.

Firstly, it is adorable that Ozimic has started his argument by trying to be scientific with the claim that gay people are ignoring biology. Yes, it's true that a gay couple can't make a baby via sexual intercourse, but he then goes on to say that gay people have "chosen a naturally non-fertile lifestyle." No, Anthony. They are homosexual. They have not "chosen a non-fertile lifestyle". There have always been homosexual people. There always will be homosexual people.

Secondly, there are plenty of Public Care Trusts, such as the one that serves the borough of Merton where I live, that do not cover IVF treatment for anyone, regardless of sexuality. In this era of NHS cuts, it is not unreasonable to expect that not only will this continue but more PCTs may seek to cut funding to IVF for all couples to save money.

And if SPUC really is concerned about taxpayer money being wasted on IVF, why aren't they openly raging about heterosexual prisoners accessing IVF treatment on the NHS? Or is it only law-abiding gay couples who shouldn't start families in the land of SPUC?

And by "social engineering", does Ozimic mean loving same-sex couples raising families? Can he explain why this is a problem without saying anything homophobic? Is he worried about gay couples raising gay children? What about all the heterosexual parents who have raised gay children?

The bigger question is: Why is SPUC so concerned about the sky falling if equality for gay people is fully realised in Britain? Last year, they held an anti-equal marriage conference in sunny Blackpool, attended by 150 people, a drop in the ocean for a country with a population of more than 60 million.

It is indeed curious when anti-abortion groups deliberately go out of their way to fly the anti-gay rights flag. A cursory glance at the pearl-clutching website is a prime example of rampant prolife homophobia. But if any group is not contributing to the nation's abortion rates, it's same-sex couples. When gay couples decide to become parents, it is usually a very planned process and the resulting babies are very much wanted. Surely this is a good thing, no?

SPUC, unsurprisingly, enjoys promoting the pro-adoption line as an alternative to abortion. Certainly, making the process of adoption as compassionate and unbureaucratic as possible is good. This helps women who are in the quandary of being pregnant without wanting to be, but do not want to have an abortion either - if a woman wants to give up her baby for adoption, this choice should not be made difficult for her. And making it easier for gay couples to adopt is surely an important part of good adoption policy, no?

But in the bizarre universe of SPUC, pregnant teenagers and rape victims should be forced to carry to term while gay couples should be prevented from starting a family, either by conception or adoption.

It's time for some honesty from SPUC. I know it's not catchy but if they really want to be truthful about their agenda, they should change their name to the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children But Only Those Who Have Been Conceived By Heterosexuals.

SPUCBOTWHBCBH. It's a bloody convoluted acronym but then so is the agenda of SPUC.

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Exploitation, unemployment and the job snob myth

It is so easy to mock the plight of Cait Reilly, the geology graduate who took legal action against the Department of Work and Pensions after being forced to work at Poundland or lose her £53-a-week in unemployment benefits.

When the story first broke, there was the predictable outrage. "Is she too good to work at Poundland? Just because she has a degree, why does that make her so bloody special? She's just a lazy job snob! In my day, we left school at 15 and went down coal mines...".

How we laughed when Frankie Boyle wrote in The Sun that with her geology degree, he was astounded that "the ability to recognise a rock was not a recession-proof skill".

But, as is common to most kneejerk outrages, there was a lack of nuance in the venom. In order to work at Poundland, Reilly had to give up her volunteer post at a museum where she was gaining experience towards employment as a curator, a relevant career choice for her degree.

A couple of weeks stacking shelves at Poundland with no prospect of a paid job of any description is not a good outcome. It is a good thing that a three-judge panel at the Royal Courts of Justice ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) acted unlawfully.

There is nothing wrong with working at Poundland. There is, however, plenty wrong with Poundland using the work-for-the-dole scheme as a source of cheap labour. This is not a meaningful solution to Britain's unemployment problem. If there are jobs that need to be done at Poundland, Poundland should offer unemployed people those jobs and pay them appropriately.

Behold, a private company taking government money in lieu of hiring staff and paying them properly - how is that an acceptable solution to unemployment? Why would any Tory support that? Oh, except that it means a few boxes get ticked and it helps to inaccurately massage the unemployment figures...

There is not a single new job created by this policy and the only real winners are employers like Poundland who get paid by the taxpayers to save money on their wages bill.

To take a graduate in any field away from relevant voluntary work or internships - with the threat of losing benefits - is counter-productive and short-sighted. Surely it is better for graduates to gain valuable experience that will lead to a job relevant to their degree than to bung them in Poundland for a couple of weeks with no real opportunity at the end of the placement.

Indeed, internships and voluntary work can already turn into forms of exploitation without the added threat of losing benefits for graduates who must forego relevant work experience to ensure boxes are ticked and unemployment stats are inaccurately massaged.

If graduates can still receive unemployment benefits while undertaking relevant voluntary work or internships, this will improve their chances of getting a job that is not only satisfying (because, you know, God forbid somebody go to university with the aim of obtaining a meaningful job at the end of it all...) but probably better paid than being a shelf-stacker at Poundland.

Or perhaps this government is hell-bent on making education so unaffordable that more people simply won't bother to go to university. Maybe students who would otherwise have gone to university will simply leave school and go to work at Poundland rather than have any other ambition? Does that sound like the foundation for a nation of strivers, those people of whom David Cameron claims to be so fond?

As a result, graduates who end up in jobs related to their degrees will pay taxes, will probably be able to pay off student debts a teeny bit faster and they will become more economically active. And the graduates won't be taking up jobs at Poundland that do not require a university education and should be offered to unemployed people who are not necessarily degree-qualified. What Tory could possibly object to any of this?

Iain Duncan Smith, we eagerly await a new policy announcement on this one. Because, let's face it, David Cameron is highly unlikely to add you to the unemployment statistics.

Here is Cait Reilly's articulate response to the court decision and the controversy.

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Monday, 11 February 2013

An open letter to Nadine Dorries from my uterus

I have joined the women of Britain who have had enough of Nadine Dorries' hypocrisy and inconsistency when it comes to abortion, sex education and equality. As such, I have joined women from across the country in writing a letter to Nadine Dorries from my uterus.

You can read my letter here.

And here is another letter from another woman's uterus to Nadine Dorries, complete with helpful diagrams. You can read that letter here.

And here is another letter with another deeply personal story explaining why it is important to respect women's choices and the often complex issues surrounding pregnancy.

Of course not everyone agrees that this letter-writing campaign is the way forward and here is an argument against it. However, if letters from uteri raise awareness of her anti-woman policies, so be it. Here is something I wrote last year calling for equal respect from Dorries. Sadly, the respect is not forthcoming.

There is a common conservative argument against funding for abortion and birth control that goes along the lines of: "How can something be nobody's business but also something we have to pay for?" Simple. Abortion and birth control, like any medical procedure, health service, visit to a general practitioner or prescription is a matter for patient confidentiality. The need for confidentiality does not negate the need for affordable access.

"How can something be nobody's business but also something we have to pay for?" could be just as easily said about Viagara, antibiotics for a respiratory infection or blood pressure medication. But it is only ever abortion and birth control that are singled out in this non-argument. I can't imagine why that is so...

Here is a link to find out more about how you can send Nadine Dorries a letter from your uterus.

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Thursday, 7 February 2013

Make no bones about it! Richard III is political.

Richard III has been dead for 528 years but he is still causing havoc long after it was rumoured that he had his own nephews murdered. The discovery of his remains under a car park in Leicester has resulted in a truly pathetic argument over where he should be buried.

Thousands of people have signed an e-petition calling for his remains to be buried in York Minster because he was the last king of the doomed House of York. Another petition is fighting for a Leicester burial. Meanwhile BBC TV presenter and art historian Dan Cruickshank and historians Andrew Roberts and Dr Suzannah Lipscomb have called for Richard III to be accorded a state funeral in London's Westminster Abbey, because this is only fitting for a head of state apparently.

Others still have stuck their heads over the parapet to call for a burial in Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, where his parents and older brother Edmund are buried in the church. And another suggests Windor where he can be laid to rest with his predessor, elder brother Edward.

The waters are further muddied by some calling for Richard III to have a Catholic funeral services because that's what he would have wanted, being a pre-Reformation monarch and all.

Meanwhile, I have found myself in the rare and alarming position of agreeing with Dr David Starkey. He said: "I think there is a very good reason why Richard found himself in a car park in Leicester. He was a disastrous monarch who destroyed his own royal house."

Yep. He was a bit of a berk and probably a tyrannical and murderous one at that. But the brouhaha over where to bury a scoliosis-afflicted king who died on a battlefield, with a hole in his head and a stabbed arse, shines a light on another issue that goes beyond centuries-overdue funeral arrangements.

In short, can we leave London out of this one? Seriously. Bury him in Leicester. It is where he died in a battle of historical importance. The University of Leicester has devoted enormous efforts, combining the disciplines of history and science, to identify the remains.

Let Leicester have this one. So what if this decision is largely motivated by bringing tourism to Leicester? It's good to share the love and money with places apart from the capital. There will always be plenty of reasons for tourists to visit London. Besides, there are already 17 dead monarchs whose graves you can gawp at in Westminster Abbey.

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Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Marriage equality and a long afternoon of talking...

At the time of writing, the House of Commons is embarking on a long debate on marriage equality - we will have an afternoon-long gabfest after which the bill allowing gay couples to marry is expected to pass. It is about time this happened although the bill is not without its flaws, chiefly that Church of England vicars will not have the option of marrying gay couples.

Culture Secretary, Maria Miller - who almost was brilliant on this issue and then jumped the shark on the issue of religious freedom - responded bizarrely when Green MP Caroline Lucas rightly pointed out that the Church of England will not be given the option of performing same-sex marriages. Miller said the Church of England is not being treated differently. Except it is. And she also said that the church has "different duties from other faiths; they have a duty to marry people." This is a moot point given that marriage is an important part of every religion that has a presence in Britain.

It turns out there are plenty of angry vicars out there who'd like the option of being able to marry same-sex couples. As it stands, assuming the bill is passed tonight, the right to say "no" to same-sex marriages will exist for churches, but not the right to say "yes". It will be interesting to see if Labour party policy for the next election will involve plans to reverse this part of the legislation, or if adjustments are made at committee stage or in the House of Lords.

Also interesting are American critics who say that the government should stay the hell out of marriage altogether - intriguingly, this is seen as a fringe argument to the bigger debate here in Britain. It seems that British people are quite happy to sign a civil document on their wedding day, regardless of the venue.

In the meantime, there are still people sticking their heads over the parapet with the usual non-arguments. It seems that every MP who is planning to vote against is doing so because of the Bible. If ever there was a solid argument for the separation of church and state in Britain ASAP, that'd be it.

And then there are the other idiotic arguments...

"Gay marriage? Next we'll be legalising incest!" No, we won't. Incest is currently illegal regardless of the genitals of the participants. This will not change.

"Gay marriage? Next we'll be legalising paedophilia!" No, we won't. Homosexuality is not the same as being attracted to children. Also, this ignores the high rates of paedophilia involving adults and children of the opposite sex.

"Gay marriage? Next we'll be letting people marry their pets!" No, we won't. This is a disturbing leap of logic and it equates animals who can't sign legal contracts with consenting adults who can. See also, "Next we'll be letting people marry toasters!"

"But the Oxford English dictionary defines marriage as being between a man and woman!" And dictionaries are not set in stone. This is why dictionaries are constantly being revised as use of language evolves along with society. If this is your best argument against marriage equality, you need a new dictionary. See also, "But the Bible says it's wrong."

"Teachers will be forced to promote gay marriage!" No, they won't. There is a difference between explaining what is legal in this country to school students of an appropriate age and actively campaigning for people to marry someone of the same sex. Anyone who tries this argument on fails to understand human sexuality.

"But what about fixing the economy? Why do we care about gay people getting married?" Uh, yeah, firstly tell that to any gay person who wants to get married and would like to see this last hurdle of discrimination fall. It's not about gay supremacy, it's about equality. Also, if our elected representatives are incapable of dealing with multiple issues, they are probably too stupid to be members of Parliament.

"Allowing gays to marry means straight people will be less likely to marry!" Say what? Giving someone else the right to marry will make me less likely to exercise that right? And I guess if they let women drive in Saudi, less men will learn to drive?

And now it is time to get the popcorn and see what unfolds this afternoon before the bill's inevitable passing at around 7pm tonight. A staggering 71 MPs want to speak on the bill so speaker John Bercow is allowing a maximum of four minutes each. It promises to be a long afternoon where enough hot air will be produced to end winter fuel poverty. But hopefully at the end of today, we can proudly say: "Yes. We live in a country where being gay is no impediment to getting married."

UPDATES (most recent at the bottom)

- Nadine Dorries (the whipless Conservative) has happened again. Without a blush, she has said that same-sex marriage does not require faithfulness and thus it is meaningless. She is labouring under the misapprehension that vows of faithfulness in heterosexual marriages are always effective... Ahem. As you were, Nadine...

- Jim Shannon (Conservative) is speaking against the bill because "the government should leave faith groups free from persecution." Ironic, given the only faith group who is actually being persecuted for their beliefs on this one is the group of Church of England vicars who want to be free to conduct same-sex marriages.

- Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Lib-Dems (who we've all heard of, right?) wants more time to be set aside for debating this bill. Superb!

- Sir Roger Gale (Conservative) made absolutely no sense with his incest analogy. None. At all. Not a bit.

- Craig Whittaker (Conservative) demonstrates for all the world to see that he fails to grasp that all marriages are first and foremost a civil contract and the religious bit is a matter of choice for individual couples.

- Labour MP for East Ham, Stephen Timms says he will vote against the bill because marriage revolves around children. He is given the smackdown very nicely by fellow Labour MP for West Ham, Lyn Brown who points out that he was at her wedding which took place after her childbearing years were over. Brown asked her colleague if her marriage is invalid. Timms then goes on to score a spectacularly asinine own goal by saying he was referring to church teaching from hundreds of years ago. Which is clearly so relevant to a debate that is happening in 2013. He is referring to an era when rape in marriage was still legal.

- Welsh Conservative Cheryl Gillam echoes Jim Shannon's idiocy on religious freedom...

- Jonathan Reynolds (Labour) and Stephen Williams (Lib-Dem) both talk sense. Hurrah!

- Conservative Mike Freer also talking sense and rightly calling out those who say same-sex marriage makes them feel sick.

- Labour MP Michael McCann joins Cheryl Gillam and Jim Shannon in the religious freedom chamber of buffoonery.

- Peter Bone would like a referendum on marriage equality added to the 2017 referendum on Britain's EU membership. Here's hoping that by then, this whole debate will seem quaint. And that politicians will quit saying "Let's have a referendum!" every five minutes.

- Peter Bone plumbs new depths when he says that today is the saddest day of his career as an MP. So not when cuts were made to the NHS or tuition fees put a university education out of reach for many or whenever Michael Gove has said anything about schools...

- And Sir Gerald Howarth adds to the growing crowd whose main objection to marriage equality is "I don't like it because the Bible says so!"

- John Glen, Conservative MP for Salisbury, says he has "tried hard" to reconcile himself to the gay marriage laws, but he cannot. He does know that if the bill becomes law, he doesn't have to marry a man, right?

He goes on to say he has "stood up to homophobic bullying" but "redefining marriage is the wrong way to tackle prejudice." I see. So removing a form of prejudice won't help reduce prejudice? Good to know!

- Fiona Bruce, a Conservative MP for Congelton, reduces the equal marriage issue down to very specific minutiae by speaking out on behalf of Christian guesthouse owners who are registered to hold civil ceremonies being forced to hold same-sex marriages. Here's the thing, Fiona - when you sign up to hold civil ceremonies at your guesthouse, you are signing up to hold them regardless of the law.

- David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, says redefining marriage to include gay couples would downgrade marriage. A law that would create more married people would downgrade marriage? Dave, marriage isn't the same as an exclusive club.

And like Peter Bone, Burrowes is "sad" about letting gay people get married. I'm sad about the downgrading of Lewisham Hospital, but hey, clearly I'm an emotional cripple.

- Stewart Jackson, a Conservative MP, reverts to Daily Mail-speak in lieu of an actual argument when he says that marriage is being "smashed at the altar of political correctness." He then says he is "personally offended that David Lammy, a Labour MP, used civil rights campaigner Rose Parks to justify the argument that gay and black rights are similar."

Stewart, here's a fun game for you. Say out loud: "I oppose black people getting married." And then say out loud: "I oppose gay people getting married." And then ask yourself whether one is more offensive than the other and, if you seriously believe the answer to that question is yes, ask yourself why.

- David Simpson, a DUP MP, actually uses the pathetic "it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve in the Garden of Eden" argument to oppose marriage equality. Wow. He has actually used an ancient allegory that also tries to convince us God made the world in a week, that women were made from a bloke's rib, and a snake talked two naked people into eating an apple and thus we are all evil sinners.

Simpson also says that marriage is a matter for God, not government, a popular argument against marriage equality put forward by many American conservatives. But in this context, in Britain, it seems weird and out of place.

- Sarah Wollaston and Stuart Andrew, both Tory MPs, speak in favour of the bill and restore some hope for humanity after much idiocy this afternoon. Wollaston, a self-described "non-believer", has received much "hateful" mail suggesting gay people need treatment. She eloquently speaks out, saying: "Homosexuality is not forbidden love and it is time this House recognised that. And that you cannot be a little bit equal."

At last! Some secular sanity!

Stuart Andrew, an openly gay MP, says he has been coming to terms with his sexuality and his faiTh for many years and says he would like to "live in a society that does not discriminate. But I do want to secure personal choice for marriage as well as religious freedom." A moving speech indeed.

- An another sanity failure, this time from Northern Ireland's Ian Paisley Jr, who says same-sex marriage is "against the nature of life and is not close to being on par with marriage between a man and a woman." He also goes on to say marriage is "not defined by love" but hastens to add that he loves his wife. Awkward...

Nice one, Ian! Let's go back to the days when marriage was merely a transaction, or something kings and queens used to do to secure power and conquer other countries. Yay, traditional marriage!

- Commonsense from Tory MP for Battersea Jane Ellison as she says religious people do not own marriage. Finally, someone who understands history and isn't in the business of bothering God!

- And, kapow! Andrew Selous, Tory MP for South West Bedfordshire, starts clutching his pearls over "the collapse of family life." Clearly, it's not all those heterosexual couples breaking up that harm the children. Oh no, it is gay couples causing all this to happen!

Selous thinks he is being dead clever by pointing out that David Cameron once said Britain is a "Christian country."

Yes, Andrew, Church of England is that state religion, but it does not hold sway over the population in the same way, say, Islam does in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. This is a country with freedom of religion, which not only gives non-Christian faiths the right to establish themselves here, but also guarantees freedom from religion for those who are not interested. Church attendance is not compulsory, there is no compulsion to state your religion on government forms or human resources forms, as is the case in the United Arab Emirates (just ask a former colleague of mine who wrote "atheist" on a form for HR...).

We can pretty much agree on certain items in the 10 commandments, such as the one about not killing and the one about not stealing, because they are dick things to do. It doesn't mean we all need to believe there is one God and if any of us want to worship false idols we can. Also, being a "Christian country" has not resulted in the "thou shalt not commit adultery" commandment being followed fanatically, especially by certain MPs.

- Oh joy. Matthew Offord, a Tory MP for Hendon, opposes the bill because polygamy and bigamy are potential future implications. Can he provide any evidence that there is a groundswell of support for legalising polygamous and bigamous marriages in Britain? I am going to go out on a limb and say no.

- Thank you Crispin Blunt, an openly gay Tory MP for Reigate, for welcoming the bill and being personally grateful to everyone who has campaigned for gay rights over the decades. So glad to live in a country where this can be said openly in parliament without fear. Thank you also to Gavin Barwell, another Conservative supporter of the bill, for saying that marriage equality will not undermine marriage.

- And with the vote now less than an hour away, three more Tory MPs, John Howell, Ben Gummer and Kris Hopkins, have spoken in favour of the bill.

Therese Coffey, Conservative MP for South Coast, however, is opposed. She says: "People who work for councils will not be able to discriminate." Huh? People who work for councils are already barred from being discriminatory. She has also started pushing the family-procreation barrow. She clearly hasn't noticed that gay people come from families and can already be parents by a number of different means.

Bizarrely, although in keeping with other MPs who have seen fit to use ancient examples despite it being 2013, Therese Coffey tweeted this: "It was Henry VIII who criminalised homosexuality by law in 1533. Catholic Queen Mary repealed it. Elizabeth I reintroduced it."

What is her point? That she wishes more modern day Catholics were like Bloody Mary? That she supports a separation of church and state in Britain given Henry VIII's apparent homophobia? I have no idea but I'd love for her to get in touch and enlighten me on her weird little history lesson.

Good grief, can we just vote on this already? The idiocy levels are starting to go nuclear.

- Is there anything more mealy-mouthed than the abstentions? MPs cannot formally abstain but can vote for both sides to show they are sitting on the fence. Such as Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, who is voting "yes" to show she supports gay rights but also "no" because the thinks the legislation is ill-considered (on the quadruple lock for the Church of England, she would be right...) but also because the government does not have a mandate for it. I'm pretty sure they don't have a mandate for systematically privatising the NHS by stealth either, but hey ho...

- Bob Blackman, Conservative MP for Harrow East, is opposed to the bill. Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, is in favour and says the House is "on a journey".

- It's a rare day that I am moved by multiple Tories but my hat is off to Iain Stewart, Conservative MP for Milton Keynes South, for sharing his poignant coming-out story.

"I often recall the day a few years ago when I finally plucked up the courage to tell my parents that I was gay. I began the conversation with the line, 'You know, I'm never going to be able to marry.' I used that form of words just as a way of broaching an awkward conversation and I didn't really think much of it at the time. But I often reflect on them and it makes me very sad that for so long that was a factually correct statement."

- Kate Green, shadow equalities minister, reminds the House that marriage is not just about procreation. Thank you, Kate! She adds that what children need most is "stability and love". The good news is that gay parents are just as able to provide this as heterosexual ones.


- PASSED WITH 400 VOTES! Now for the House of Lords to do the right thing...

British readers, check here to see how your MP voted.

And behold! The Merciless Prism of Equality! This wins the internet.

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