Ann Treneman talks to Caroline Lucas MP/Jo Swinson MP in South Africa

Women’s Parliamentary Radio

February 4th 2011
For immediate release Ann Treneman, The Times sketchwriter, has a “Face to Face Encounter” with Caroline Lucas MP on her Parliamentary Reforms and “Guest Editor” Jo Swinson MP hooks up with South Africa and one woman MP’s battle to end violence against women

Ann Treneman “Face to Face Encounters” series.

Ann Treneman, sketchwriter of The Times starts off our new “Face to Face Encounters” series of interviews talking with Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and Leader of the Green Party on her proposals for the reform of Parliament.

Caroline’s report “The Case for Parliamentary Reform” has just been debated in Westminster Hall. It includes measures for “electronic voting”, changing “the parliamentary language”, ending the “talking out” of Private Members Bills, and publication of the “Speakers List” so MPs know when they are going to be called to talk in the Chamber.

Caroline, an MEP for ten years, estimates that just queuing up to vote accounts for around £30,000 a week in MPs’ salary costs, and 250 hours of their time each Parliamentary year. Here Ann – renowned for her portrayals of Westminster as a series of “playground spats” between “bickering children” – finds out if Caroline is a modern day “Mary Poppins” and destined to fail?

Caroline tells Ann:

• “The culture is an old boy’s club, that is the feel of it. One of the reasons I hold out some hope – because I do appreciate others have tried to reform Westminster – is that there are a lot of new MPs from professional backgrounds who are still reeling in shock about how this place works. I hope these voices get heard, because there really is quite a groundswell for saying there are things we could do, fairly simply, to make this place operate more efficiently.”

• “The Speakers List suggestions, some are for and some are against! There is a worry that fewer people will be in the Chamber, but there are safeguards you can build into this, so you keep the spontaneity but you wouldn’t have the situation where you sit through say six hours of debate, not being able to go to the loo, in case you lose your position on the list, if you knew you were on it. It’s like Alice in Wonderland.”

• “….it does feel like a little island of madness, I agree with you, it is a very different World. I think the work home-life balance is so difficult, ask my two kids, anyone with a responsibility for kids particularly young kids has a real struggle, particularly for the all-night sittings. That mystery you speak of, because you don’t know when things are going to happen, does make operating here incredibly difficult.”

• “There has been less opposition than I thought, things are changing it is exciting to be here, and there has been less old style patronage than I had expected. I do just get the sense there is an appetite for some change, but maybe over optimistically.”

• “I am not expecting this is all going to go through swimmingly first time round, but it does just open the doors for other people’s ideas and I hope that we can get some momentum behind them. Some of them that are easy wins, like some explanation of what an amendment is trying to achieve, that is not revolutionary and it would mean that more MPs would know what they are voting on, the Whips power would be less, and somebody trying to follow this from the outside would understand what is going on here.”

Jo Swinson MP “Guest Editor” and Lindiwe Mazibuko, MP South African Parliament

Jo Swinson the Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire, PPS to Business Secretary Vince Cable, sits in our “Guest Editor” Chair this week. She recently meet Lindiwe Mazibuko, the opposition Democratic Alliance Spokesperson in the South African Parliament and the Shadow Deputy Minister of Communications. Lindiwe is one of the Parliaments youngest members, as was Jo herself.

In this special “hook-up” to celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day in March 2011, Jo asks Lindiwe about how she was elected and what the impact of apartheid and the ANCs 1996 Constitution has been? Lindiwe told Jo how the women in the Parliament were progressing the pressing issue of young women being kidnapped and raped as some sort of marriage courtship practice, and to stop women being treated as “objects” culturally. Here Jo is co-founder of “The Campaign for Body Confidence”.

Lindiwe told Jo:
• “I was elected in 2009 in the last General Election for the Democratic Alliance, we have a full PR list system and I was number three on the list. I had been working for the Party the Democratic Alliance for some time, they were looking for people who were competent and diverse and who could represent a better mix of South African’s and as a young politician I made the cut. The Party was looking to diversify and I was ready and waiting.”

• Almost half of the MPs in the National Assembly are women and the same is true of the ANC’s Cabinet, almost half of them are women. In the governing party certain positions are sometimes reserved for women and some for men but in our Party it is a far more open approach and we have a female leader. Women’s issues are everyone’s issues is our approach, the challenges that face women in South Africa stem from the rich culture of patriarchy. The representation doesn’t always translate into as much activism as it should.”

• “Politician’s are quick to make glib speeches but it is not always translated into policy implementation for instance on the issues such as polygamy, we have never made a serious issue about this. Women are still having to subscribe to a patriarchal society even when half the women in the Cabinet are women. “

• “Issues of poverty such as HIV, Aids and sexual violence are of importance too, the rate of infection is much higher amongst women than men, particularly young women. One survey found a third of men admitted to committing sexual violence against a woman, figures like this are astonishing. Women as objects that have to be treated like a child or as a possession is something that stems from the deep patriarchy which was part of apartheid and there is a little bit of a time warp here. In deep rural parts of the Country the most astonishing practices still take place like women being kidnapped and raped as part of some pre marriage courtship practices. People are frightened to champion women as equals. ”

• “We in the DA are trying to convince South African’s our rights in the Constitution are only of value if we are willing to protect each other, and someone who doesn’t come from my racial or cultural group. It is such a difficult process because the scars of apartheid are deep and longstanding, and the hope is coming from young people and young leaders. It is difficult to break that racial deadlock, but we are working as hard as we can to make that happen.”

• “We need our partners in Parliament’s all over the World to fight the fight with us to fight the culture of patriarchy and attitudes surrounding women, and others must be willing to discuss the challenges we face. To celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day it would be good if we could join hands with women in other Parliament’s where women are more emancipated in order to give us a bit more momentum too.”

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