Vote Berry... and Livingstone!

Ken Livingstone may be far from perfect, but Boris Johnson would be a disaster for London

Today I announced my recommendation for a "Sian 1, Ken 2" vote for Mayor of London this year, and here I want to explain why.

I’ll start by making it clear that Ken Livingstone is not my first choice for Mayor of London. I am my first choice for Mayor of London - more than anything London needs a real Green Mayor. But voters in this election do have two votes on the Mayoral ballot paper, and the way in which my supporters use their second votes could well be decisive on 1 May.

London faces a double threat in the next 43 days. First, we have the threat of Boris Johnson. As Mayor, he would prove to be a disaster for London, even on his own. But second, we also have the threat of a Tory monopoly over London.

For the past four years, Ken Livingstone has had to negotiate and compromise, because he has had to win votes from another party to pass his budget. Each year, the Greens on the London Assembly have driven a hard bargain and we have made significant progress in a number of social and environmental areas.

Boris Johnson, in contrast, would come with a built-in Tory majority, enabling him to do anything he likes over the heads of a powerless opposition in the Assembly.

And the truth is that what Boris Johnson likes is not what you or I like. He doesn’t share Londoners’ values; in fact in many ways he seems to hate them.

He hates that we celebrate each other’s heritage; he hates that we are trying to pass on a healthy environment to our children; he hates that we look after our most vulnerable neighbours; and most of all he hates that we all expect to share in our city’s financial success. And if he is elected he will do his best to dismantle and destroy all of that.

He stands for scrapping affordable housing requirements and abandoning higher charges for gas guzzlers. He opposed the minimum wage and the Kyoto treaty. He has tried to hoodwink London over airport expansion and he was a cheerleader for the war in Iraq. Johnson is no joke, and I cannot bear the thought of London under his cruel and careless control.

I’ll be the first to admit that Ken Livingstone isn’t perfect. I am, after all, standing against him and am deadly serious about wanting to replace him. I have spoken out on a number of occasions about my reservations. The Thames Gateway motorway bridge remains a dreadful plan that he won’t give up, and at hustings I’ve repeatedly expressed my concerns about his plans for jobs and economic development.

But he has shown again his willingness to negotiate over this last point and, under tough questioning from Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson at Mayor’s Question Time last week, he made new commitments to look again at how we can develop new industries in London to meet the challenges we face in the future, rather than rely solely on the financial services industry for our prosperity.

And despite all Ken Livingstone’s faults, the fact remains that putting Boris Johnson in charge would be so much worse.

London Greens share my view. So, as a party, we have decided to recommend that our supporters give their second vote for Mayor to Ken Livingstone not Boris Johnson. And of course we also welcome Ken Livingstone’s recommendation to his voters to give their second votes to the Greens.

So, if you care about having a fair London – socially and environmentally – and you want a Mayor who is accountable, not uncontrollable, you should vote for more Greens on the Assembly, then vote for me first for Mayor and use your insurance vote for Ken Livingstone.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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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.