Chagos, Vince Cable, and Ed Miliband

The Chagos controversy is now making an impact at the highest levels of government. How will the new

chagos letter

On 13 September, the Staggers exclusively revealed the contents of a letter from the new business secretary, Vince Cable, to his constituent, Dr George Beckmann, claiming that the coalition government was about to come to a "friendly settlement" with the Chagos Islanders, whose case concerning the right of return to their homeland is pending before the European Court of Human Rights. Then followed a frantic attempt by an official at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to claim that the letter had been sent "in error by his constituency office".

Dr Cable has now sent a second letter to his constituent (see above), also from his constituency office, apologising "for the mistake that was made" in "giving an incorrect impression of the actions of the British Government". Nevertheless, it is highly revealing about the status of the new business secretary that Cable did not feel obliged to toe the conventional Foreign Office line and invoke the usual smokescreen about defence security and "treaty obligations" to the US (note: sorry but an exchange of letters does not constitute a treaty) much used by former British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and the current minister responsible for British overseas territories, Henry Bellingham, particularly as regards the use of the military base on Diego Garcia, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Instead, in his second letter, Cable makes it abundantly clear where his sympathies lie. He explains that while his busy ministerial role precludes him from "remaining as actively involved with this cause" he ventures, "I am sure that the Chagossian cause will continue to be championed by my colleagues within the Liberal Democrat party and campaigners such as yourself".

Meanwhile, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week Mauritius foreign minister, Dr Arvin Boolell, demanded the unconditional return of the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, to Mauritius as soon as possible.

It is a sign of the frustration that Mauritius feels with successive UK governments that Boolell was unusually forthright. "The Chagos Archipelago was excised from Mauritian territory illegally by the United Kingdom... this is a flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions 1514 and 2066," he said, referring to the fact that it was illegal under international law for Britain to excise part of the colony of Mauritius in 1965 before granting independence in 1968.

Boolell also reiterated that his government remains fully behind the right of return of the Chagos Islanders and "greatly appreciated the unanimous and unflinching support from the African Union and the Non-Aligned Movement". Further worries for the FCO will come from the announcement by Dr Boolell that his country had decided not to recognise the marine protected area in the British Indian Ocean Territory, which was announced by David Miliband on 1 April.

As for the future -- given that David Miliband, who during his time in government stuck resolutely to Foreign Office policy on Chagos, is now to leave front bench politics to spend more time with his family, the question is whether there will be a change in attitude on the right of return of the Chagos Islanders at the top of the Labour Party. It is well-known that Ed Miliband was supported from early on in his bid for the leadership by the Kinnocks. Although as a FCO minister Baroness Kinnock was obliged to defend the Foreign Secretary's policy towards the Islanders in the House of Lords on 6 April, she was clearly very embarrassed to do so. Perhaps, it is time for Glenys to make amends and use her famous Welsh charm to persuade Ed to follow Dr Cable's lead on this one.

Dr Sean Carey is Research Fellow at the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (CRONEM), Roehampton University.

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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.