Right now, the Movement for Change is wrong for Labour

David Miliband has much to offer. But not this.

There are two ways of viewing the announcement that Labour is about open its ranks to "an army of 10,000 community activists" managed by the Movement for Change. One is that it may create tensions within the party. The other is that it will be a total, unmitigated catastrophe.

I lean towards the latter. I have huge respect for David Miliband. I voted for him in the leadership election and assisted his campaign behind the scenes. It's a campaign that, despite the result, was a model of professionalism and probity.

Movement for Change was its Achilles heel.

"It was a disaster," says a key aide. "We had these guys sitting down with constituency chairs who had just fought off the Tories and Lib Dems by a couple of hundred votes, and they're saying, 'Right, we're going to teach you how to organise a campaign.' "

"I'd die in a ditch for David," says another member of his team, "but to be honest, Movement for Change turned out to be a real problem. It took a lot of time, a lot of energy, and it just rubbed up a lot of potential supporters the wrong way."

Movement for Change grew out of Citizens UK, the community action group established by Neil Jameson, former director of Save the Children and the Children's Society, and Lord Maurice Glasman, dubbed "Ed Miliband's de facto chief of staff" by one Labour insider.

Citizens UK describes itself as "an experiment in democracy and the exercise of civic power". According to its website, "Ordinary people feel powerless to influence the decisions which affect their lives. This is dangerous for democracy. It is dangerous for politics. When politics fail, violence is the resort of the desperate."

The organisation has a strong base among a diverse range of faith communities, which in turn has a strong influence over its culture and agenda: "The power and influence that we seek is tempered by our religious teachings and moral values and is exercised in the fluid and ever-changing relationship with our fellow leaders, allies and adversaries."

According to a prominent Labour adviser who has worked closely with the party on its organisational structures: "They're relatively new on the UK political scene. I didn't know much about them except the media hype. Then Movement for Change had a big meeting at party conference which started full and ended up with less than half that number. They had one activist shouting at Ed Miliband across the room, there was a lot of singing, and there were a lot of people demanding Ed provide them with pledges on this and that. I'd question whether it's possible to integrate their culture with that of the party."

According to another Labour activist who has attended one of the events: "Citizens UK are very strongly based around religion. When I was there you'd have some dragon dancers, then a priest, then some songs. There were always points where people were asked or encouraged to express some form of affirmation for the cause."

Nevertheless, Citizens UK, and its subsidiary London Citizens, can point to some significant political successes. It was instrumental in promoting the idea of the living wage, led the fight for the abolition of detention of child refugees and secured the presence of all three political leaders at its conference in the middle of last May's general election campaign.

But there is a political ambiguity to its aims which many in the Labour Party find troubling.

One very senior organiser who is closely associated with Movement for Change and Citizens UK admitted to me that, despite claims to the contrary, "We have had no real success in developing our relationship with the trade unions."

Maurice Glasman told the Guardian on Monday, "The unions are the great silent, awful fact in all this. They are the self-organised wing of the Labour movement. They are dominated by a narrow crust of progressive activists, they are disengaged from their members. And what Labour's got to understand is that we've lost the art of leadership and organising, so Labour's got to set up its own organising academy."

According to the Guardian, it is envisaged that Movement for Change will be "autonomous, controlled by its members, and affiliated to the Labour Party as a socialist society".

There is the added issue of the relationship between Citizens UK and David Cameron's "big society" agenda. Citizens UK claims that it intends to "play a key role" in building the "big society". According to the organisation, "In the Conservatives' 'big society' paper and manifesto, Citizens UK is mentioned as the main resource for the training of community organisers, which the Prime Minister repeated."

In the wake of Labour's election defeat, it is only right that people look afresh at all aspects of the party's infrastructure and organisation. But the new politics appears to be advancing on the party not in single spies, but in battalions. What is needed is a professional, root-and-branch reorganisation. What we appear to be getting is the establishment of a people's militia.

David Miliband still has much to offer his party. Movement for Change is not the vehicle for delivering it.

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Meet the hot, funny, carefree Cool Mums – the maternal version of the Cool Girl

As new film Bad Moms reveals, what the cool girl is to the diet-obsessed prom queen, the cool mum is to the PTA harpy.

I suppose we should all be thankful. Time was when “mum’s night off” came in the form of a KFC value bucket. Now, with the advent of films such as Bad Moms – “from the gratefully married writers of The Hangover” – it looks as though mums are finally getting permission to cut loose and party hard.

This revelation could not come a moment too soon. Fellow mums, you know all those stupid rules we’ve been following? The ones where we think “god, I must do this, or it will ruin my precious child’s life”? Turns out we can say “sod it” and get pissed instead. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore said so.

I saw the trailer for Bad Moms in the cinema with my sons, waiting for Ghostbusters to start. Much as I appreciate a female-led comedy, particularly one that suggests there is virtue in shirking one’s maternal responsibilities, I have to say there was something about it that instantly made me uneasy. It seems the media is still set on making the Mommy Wars happen, pitching what one male reviewer describes as “the condescending harpies that run the PTA” against the nice, sexy mummies who just want to have fun (while also happening to look like Mila Kunis). It’s a set up we’ve seen before and will no doubt see again, and while I’m happy some attention is being paid to the pressures modern mothers are under, I sense that another is being created: the pressure to be a cool mum.

When I say “cool mum” I’m thinking of a maternal version of the cool girl, so brilliantly described in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl:

“Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot.”

The cool girl isn’t like all the others. She isn’t weighed down by the pressures of femininity. She isn’t bothered about the rules because she knows how stupid they are (or at least, how stupid men think they are). She does what she likes, or at least gives the impression of doing so. No one has to feel guilty around the cool girl. She puts all other women, those uptight little princesses, to shame.

What the cool girl is to the diet-obsessed prom queen, the cool mum is to the PTA harpy. The cool mum doesn’t bore everyone by banging on about organic food, sleeping habits or potty training. Neither hyper-controlling nor obsessively off-grid, she’s managed to combine reproducing with remaining a well-balanced person, with interests extending far beyond CBeebies and vaccination pros and cons. She laughs in the face of those anxious mummies ferrying their kids to and from a multitude of different clubs, in between making  cupcakes for the latest bake sale and sitting on the school board. The cool mum doesn’t give a damn about dirty clothes or additives. After all, isn’t the key to happy children a happy mum? Perfection is for narcissists.

It’s great spending time with the cool mum. She doesn’t make you feel guilty about all the unpaid drudgery about which other mothers complain. She’s not one to indulge in passive aggression, expecting gratitude for all those sacrifices that no one even asked her to make. She’s entertaining and funny. Instead of fretting about getting up in time to do the school run, she’ll stay up all night, drinking you under the table. Unlike the molly-coddled offspring of the helicopter mum or the stressed-out kids of the tiger mother, her children are perfectly content and well behaved, precisely because they’ve learned that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Mummy’s a person, too.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, just how well this works out. Just as the cool girl manages to meet all the standards for patriarchal fuckability without ever getting neurotic about diets, the cool mum raises healthy, happy children without ever appearing to be doing any actual motherwork. Because motherwork, like dieting, is dull. The only reason any woman would bother with either of them is out of some misplaced sense of having to compete with other women. But what women don’t realise – despite the best efforts of men such as the Bad Moms writers to educate us on this score – is that the kind of woman who openly obsesses over her children or her looks isn’t worth emulating. On the contrary, she’s a selfish bitch.

For what could be more selfish than revealing to the world that the performance of femininity doesn’t come for free? That our female bodies are not naturally hairless, odourless, fat-free playgrounds? That the love and devotion we give our children – the very care work that keeps them alive – is not something that just happens regardless of whether or not we’ve had to reimagine our entire selves to meet their needs? No one wants to know about the efforts women make to perform the roles which men have decided come naturally to us. It’s not that we’re not still expected to be perfect partners and mothers. It’s not as though someone else is on hand to pick up the slack if we go on strike. It’s just that we’re also required to pretend that our ideals of physical and maternal perfection are not imposed on us by our position in a social hierarchy. On the contrary, they’re meant to be things we’ve dreamed up amongst ourselves, wilfully, if only because each of us is a hyper-competitive, self-centred mean girl at heart.

Don’t get me wrong. It would be great if the biggest pressures mothers faced really did come from other mothers. Alas, this really isn’t true. Let’s look, for instance, at the situation in the US, where Bad Moms is set. I have to say, if I were living in a place where a woman could be locked up for drinking alcohol while pregnant, where she could be sentenced to decades behind bars for failing to prevent an abusive partner from harming her child, where she could be penalised in a custody case on account of being a working mother – if I were living there, I’d be more than a little paranoid about fucking up, too. It’s all very well to say “give yourself a break, it’s not as though the motherhood police are out to get you”. Actually, you might find that they are, especially if, unlike Kunis’s character in Bad Moms, you happen to be poor and/or a woman of colour.

Even when the stakes are not so high, there is another reason why mothers are stressed that has nothing to do with pressures of our own making. We are not in need of mindfulness, bubble baths nor even booze (although the latter would be gratefully received). We are stressed because we are raising children in a culture which strictly compartmentalises work, home and leisure. When one “infects” the other – when we miss work due to a child’s illness, or have to absent ourselves to express breastmilk at social gatherings, or end up bringing a toddler along to work events – this is seen as a failure on our part. We have taken on too much. Work is work and life is life, and the two should never meet.

No one ever says “the separation between these different spheres – indeed, the whole notion of work/life balance – is an arbitrary construct. It shouldn’t be down to mothers to maintain these boundaries on behalf of everyone else.” Throughout human history different cultures have combined work and childcare. Yet ours has decreed that when women do so they are foolishly trying to “have it all”, ignoring the fact that no one is offering mothers any other way of raising children while maintaining some degree of financial autonomy. These different spheres ought to be bleeding into one another.  If we are genuinely interested in destroying hierarchies by making boundaries more fluid, these are the kind of boundaries we should be looking at. The problem lies not with identities – good mother, bad mother, yummy mummy, MILF – but with the way in which we understand and carry out our day-to-day tasks.

But work is boring. Far easier to think that nice mothers are held back, not by actual exploitation, but by meanie alpha mummies making up arbitrary, pointless rules. And yes, I’d love to be a bad mummy, one who stands up and says no to all that. Wouldn’t we all? I’d be all for smashing the matriarchy, if that were the actual problem here, but it’s not.

It’s not that mummies aren’t allowing each other to get down and party. God knows, we need it. It’s just that it’s a lot less fun when you know the world will still be counting on you to clear up afterwards.  

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