Go fourth the stickers proclaimed

Just what have the bloggers been saying in the week Gordon Brown pulled back from the brink...

Half Madchester

Labour had to call on previously untapped depths of optimism to get through conference – stretching the nation’s credulity in the process. “Go fourth” the stickers adorning the crowd proclaimed, as Brown appeared on stage to the strains of Jackie Wilson’s ‘Higher and Higher’ for his keynote speech. At a time when the party’s poll rating has plummeted to historic lows, it verged on the surreal. But the activists enjoyed it.

Alex Finnegan liked Brown’s address, but was ultimately left unsure whether it was enough to save his neck.

“He has won himself a stay of execution. But that is all. It will take more than a good speech to turn around Labour's fortunes,” he wrote.

Taking a break from complaining his mouldy hotel room mattress, Kerron Cross heaped praise on the PM’s speech, enthusing:

“Gordon played to his strengths. He has beliefs. He wants to do the right thing. And hey, if you don't like him, then fine - he will just get on with doing the right thing and take it on the chin. Because our party is not about personality, it is about doing what is right.”

Inexcusably, he used emotions twice in his post.

Paul Anderson directed his thoughts towards Miliband’s address, and concluded that:

“…while managing to steer the fine line he had to between expressing loyalty to Gordon Brown and placing himself as the front-runner to succeed Brown if and when Brown's position becomes utterly hopeless.”

This was prior to the revelation of Miliband’s ”Heseltine moment”.

Other Labour bloggers avoided obsessing about conference. My namesake on Never Trust a Hippy (I hope this clears up any confusion) was interested in the future of socialism. Identifying with the “new left,” he argued that collective action is best channelled through civil society:

“The beauty of this, of course, is that the left have always had this argument in their peripheral vision. We have won huge victories while no-one was looking - often with Tory governments in power.”

Sounds more like liberalism to me.

Elsewhere, Recess Monkey and Labour Home’s Alex Hilton, who watched Brown’s speech lurking at the back of a hotel bar, this week took a really rather cheap shot at the Tories on the grounds that its party website had a
black and white photo of Sayeeda Warsi. Come on Alex, you can do better than that.

What have we learned this week?

As the cabinet’s gender balance shifts in the wrong direction, it is a woman who takes the lead in the contest to decide the new Lib Dem president. Nomination forms were due in this week, and as predicted at NS online, Chandila Fernando joins Opik and Baroness Scott among the nominees. Scott blogged about her confidence in the race proper, in upbeat mood she wrote:

“We intend to be positive - I think I've got a good story to tell and I'm going to tell it loud and clear. We intend to be innovative - using new campaigning ideas and methods”.

A break from Focus leaflets? That’s what we want to hear!

Reform my kitchen

The conference season gives us the opportunity to amass piles of branded rubbish: mainly mugs, badges and tote bags. The Electoral Reform Society gave us fun fridge magnets. So far my flatmates have used them to spell out “it’s party time,” “strengthen my members” and “I make love with real MPs”. Callow, I know. The society’s excellent Make My Vote Count blog can be found here.

Across the Pond

Over at Shakesville, Melissa McEwan takes issue with Rush Limbaugh’s mendaciously motivated assertion that Barack Obama is not an African-American, but an Arab.

“Neither of Obama's parents were African-Americans, but the fact that his father was African and his mother was an American pretty much makes Obama about as literally African-American as it gets,” she quite reasonably asserted.

Limbaugh often refers to himself as a “harmless lovable little fuzz ball” – if only he were.

Videos of the Week

This week Chester Conservative Future uses T.Rex’s ‘Children of the Revolution’ to flog its fresher drive, Will Hutton talks at the Unions 21 fringe and Celia Barlow MP celebrates Labour’s clampdown on lapdancing.

Quote of the Week

“How fair is it that British workers still have the poorest employment rights of any industrialised countries? How fair is it to allow employers to sack staff by text message? How fair is it that cleaners pay a higher marginal rate of tax than hedge fund bosses?”

Dave Osler on Liberal Conspiracy questions Brown’s understanding of “fairness”.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.