Listen to Lynne Featherstone MP and Baroness Williams on wpradio

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Women’s Parliamentary Radio:

March 21st 2010

Lynne Featherstone tells wpradio.co.uk why airbrushing in advertisements should be banned and Baroness Williams of Crosby says more women MPs will help parliamentary reform

The Liberal Democrat:  “Real Women: The Body Image Debate”.

Two Liberal Democrat MPs, Jo Swinson  and Lynne Featherstone have launched a “Real Women: The Body Image Debate”.

Jo is the MP for East Dunbartonshire and Lynne the MP for Hornsey and Woodgreen. They believe that the constant bombardment of perfect images of women in the media are leading to all kinds of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, lack of self esteem, eating disorders to name but a few.

They are campaigning for adverts which have been “air-brushed” to be labelled as such. Their suggestions also include “health certificates” for models, and more sport and “image” education in schools. This campaign has won the backing of academics, doctors and clinical psychologists worldwide.

Our wpradio.co.uk reporter Linda Fairbrother brushed up her body image with a bike ride to the train station to interview Lynne. It’s a campaign we are supporting.

Here’s what Lynne told Linda:

  • “It is everybody’s right to feel good about their body, this is a push back against the overwhelming power and the financial power of the beauty, diet, food and fashion industries which show us endless streams of perfect images that none of us can aspire to not even the models in the adverts. We are calling for honesty and transparency in advertising and that means labelling an ad where people have been digitally enhanced and more. …”
  • “The LD campaign is backed by 40 academics, and there is a direct proven link with eating disorders, depression, anxiety low self-esteem and not living up to things that is having a wider impact on people’s lives. Many young people spend their formative years feeling bad about themselves and therefore that affects every area of their life and is saps their confidence, the need for conformity is terrible.”
  • “You can’t change the world overnight and you can’t stop goods being sold, but we want to make sure they do it in an open and transparent way and talk about it. We have now brought together all these people from different walks of life and there are a number of people saying we can do better than this and we can feel good about ourselves.”
  • “You just have to begin to bush it back. Debenhams are now using size 16 in their windows and when we say well done, that leads to good publicity for them. Drink driving was a cultural shift, and we have seen all sorts of shifts and that is what we are aiming to do to get to a tipping point.”
  • “The labelling of airbrushed ads is quite complicated, the Advertising Standards Authority are not that interested, and Jo Swinson and I who are heading this campaign may have to go to Europe and rely on our colleagues there, because they have sway over the way some things are labelled. It is a matter for legislation but the real thing is the raising of this issue and turning a light on it, campaigning on it because that is political leadership.”

Asked about the report from the Centre for Women and Democracy that says: “The number of Liberal Democrat women MPs will probably remain static”, Ms Featherstone said she doubted that prediction:

  • “This election is the one to watch, and I pay credit to Jo Swinson who is indefatigable and has done a lot of work in this area in training and mentoring and ensuring women have got into winnable seats. This election is the one to watch to see if these soft measures rather than the hard measure of a mechanism works. I would be very shocked if that were the result, I am optimistic.”

Shirely Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby:

Rt. Hon. Professor Shirley Williams is Co-Founder of the Liberal Democrats and is a Member of the UK House of Lords, where she was Leader of the party from 2001 to 2004.  She is Professor Emeritus of Elective Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and advises the Prime Minister on issues of nuclear proliferation. She has written many books and is regarded as an “elder stateswoman” of British politics.

Baroness Williams recently gave a talk to the “Institute of Government” on reforming politics after the expenses saga.   Here Linda Fairbrother, our wpradio.co.uk reporter, asked her why she thought politics was “broke” and how we could go about “fixing it”, including more women MPs in Westminster?

Here’s what Baroness Williams told Linda:

  • “I am depressed by the level of anger directed at our present representative democracy mostly because of the expenses scandal and what I am trying to get at is how do we actually reform representative democracy, which I think is essential? We do need a powerful strong parliament but we have to make sweeping changes to get there.”
  • “There is a huge change in the attitudes of deference towards MPs and I don’t think that is a bad thing. But the pendulum has swung ludicriously far and people now see MPs as being a gang of rogues. However, most people think highly of their own MPs and lowly of other MPs …and that means their own experience comes out better than that they get from the media.”
  • “One of the things I liked about the old parliaments of the 50s and 60s is that you had people who were primarily something else…but what has happened more and more is that politics has become professionalised at an early age. Somebody becomes and intern…and then a candidate and sometimes even gets put into a safe seat, they don’t even have the experience of having to fight to be elected, and so when they become an MP they don’t have a sense of association or brotherhood with other MPs like themselves.”
  • “A lot of the women we have in the House, came by way of women only selection. A lot of women were written down by that terrible caption of “Blair’s Babes” like a renaissance painting where the figure of God (Tony Blair) was surrounded by cherubs and none had any identity……that was terrible and it did dam them from very early on.”
  • “I think it has to be radical reform, at one end the electoral system throws up too many safe seats, and they slowly die on you…. You need the charge of being able to change your MP and your government… and what that in turn means is that the parties don’t put resources in and they allow them to wither on the vine. “
  • “One of the ways to deal with the problem of getting more women in, instead of very artificial things like women only selections… is the straight forward way to do it is to have bigger constituencies with men and women  MPs.  It will give you a totally different kind of Parliament, and stop being clubish and boozy and more serious and more linked to the public’s interest kind of parliament.”
  • “In fairness to Gordon, who tends to get a very rough press, he has always respected the condition I put to him (when I became a government advisor) that I am going to continue to be a LD and I am going to continue to be free to criticise policy …and he has abided totally by that and he has never tried to put pressure on me to support government policy as a quid pro quo for being a government advisor.”

Footnotes:

  1. Wpradio.co.uk is a web based broadcaster supported by all parties. It has over 100 interviews with women and male politicians of all parties which can be listened to online or downloaded as podcasts.
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  1. Our supporters include Harriet Harman MP, Theresa May MP and Jo Swinson MP and many other female politicians listed on our site.
  1. The British Library archives all the interviews on wpradio.co.uk in its new web collection.
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