Kate Middleton: walking uterus!

The speculation about whether the princess is pregnant is a sad indication of the way we view our royals.

The speculation about whether the princess is pregnant is a sad indication of the way we view our public figures.

Kate Middleton, our princess of dreams, is slowly becoming dismembered. Just as her sister was reduced to a pair of ripe buttocks by the sexy gaze of the media back in April, now Kate faces the same Boxing Helena fate -- but her destiny is a walking uterus rather than a walking bum.

Photos of Kate last week showed that her hands were near her stomach. Aha! She must be preggers! Or thinking about a baby! Or about to pop one out on the sly! She once refused a peanut butter sandwich! Maybe she's pregnant! Maybe she's about to have the ROYAL BABY just after the ROYAL WEDDING! Hurry up, ma'am, and use your uterus before it runs out!

More prosaic explanations for the pictures -- for example, that she didn't have any pockets, so where was she meant to put her hands? -- could be swept aside. "So what's making Kate so happy?" nudged the Daily Mail, along with the Daily Express and Daily Star, who also carried the photo on their front pages. Maybe she'd met someone she knew? Maybe she was having a nice time? Maybe she likes doing princess things and being a princess? Aha, but with a wink here and a nod there, we get the picture: KATE MIGHT BE PREGNANT!

You might argue that that's all a princess of the realm ever is -- a pretty face, a nice wave and very little else; someone to wear pretty dresses and then squirt out a kid when the Crown demands it. You might say that's the career and the ambition that Kate M chose when she decided to become part of the cobweb-ridden old aristocratic family from her "common" roots.

I don't agree. Surely this person, regardless of whether or not she is a princess, is a human being, a woman with dreams and ambitions, a person with a being, with a soul? Well, it's just that we don't see William, Kate's husband, as essentially being a pair of testicles. We see beyond the gonads when it comes to him, and see a person.

We don't just think: oh come on, Wills, your role is to pump out some blue-blooded semen, so let's get on with it. We don't linger on photographs of his crotch, wondering whether he is about to produce the royal fluids to extend the family line. We just let him get on with it. But that's not a freedom that we extend to his better half: she is destined to be a barren womb, until such time as she becomes pregnant, and then that's that; her work will have been done.

There's another thing, too, aside from the fact we have barely moved on since medieval times in the way we view princesses. The post-Leveson landscape doesn't look spectacularly different from the Bad Old Days. As ever, speculation about the pregnancy (or otherwise) of a public figure is a rather unpleasant thing if that person in question hasn't chosen to make it public, or hasn't reached the stage at which such things should really be made public.

Surely such things are, you know, private, even for public figures? Or is every time Kate looks happy (or sad), or fat (or thin), or puts her hands near her belly (or not), going to be evidence that she might be up the duff? Is that what we've really come to, as a nation, in the way we see our public figures? If so, I find it all rather sad.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.