Cameron remains locked in a lose-lose situation on the euro

The PM attempts to appease Eurosceptic MPs while retaining British influence in the EU. He cannot ha

It is obvious that the crisis engulfing the eurozone has serious ramifications for Britain. It has also placed David Cameron in a tight spot politically, as he struggles to balance the demands of vociferous Eurosceptic MPs and a Franco-German alliance willing to forge ahead without Britain if it needs to.

As he prepares to join the EU's other 26 heads of government to discuss plans to save the euro, Cameron has attempted to navigate these contesting demands and set out his position in an article in the Times (£).

There are two key points to take from this piece. Firstly, Cameron dismisses calls for a referendum on any treaty changes by reiterating that this law only applies in the case of powers being transferred from Britain to the EU. At the weekend, Iain Duncan Smith added to Cameron's headache when he suggested that it could, in fact, apply to any "major treaty change", such as that required for greater fiscal union. Cameron also states that his demands will remain "practical and focused", despite calls from his MPs to use the talks to renegotiate social and employment law.

But he does not disregard his party's Eurosceptic wing entirely. The second key point is a hardening of rhetoric and a pledge to protect Britain's interests. Cameron warns that his focused approach should not be mistaken "for any lack of steel", and says that safeguards for the City of London will be the price of his support for any changes:

Our colleagues in the EU need to know that we will not agree to a treaty change that fails to protect our interests.

Essentially, Cameron is caught between a rock and a hard place. If he wants to create a treaty for all 27 EU member states, he must strike a conciliatory tone in talks with the rest of the EU. If, however, he prioritises an aggressive defence of Britain's interests, the likelihood is that the 17 eurozone countries will breakaway and form a treaty amongst themselves. In his piece, he addresses this possibility, saying that a treaty of 17 "would need to make sure our interests are protected".But it is unrealistic to think that Britain will not lose influence in such a scenario. Quite simply, he can't have it both ways, as my colleague Rafael Behr argued last week:

It doesn't look as if Britain has much of a say anyway, and either outcome gives Cameron a headache. If he can persuade the European Council later this week that all 27 EU members should be working on a new treaty, he invites his backbenchers to present him with a shopping list of powers to repatriate during the talks. If he accepts that it should just be a 17-strong euro member treaty negotiation, he risks surrendering Britain's seat in a discussion that is plainly vital to our national economic interest. That process might still produce a document that has to be ratified by parliament. One way or another, the clamour for a referendum will grow.

Cameron writes that "our biggest national interest is that the eurozone sorts out its problems", but from his posturing, it appears that he is not fully committed to this and remains trapped in a lose-lose situation. On the same day as the Prime Minister ramps up the rhetoric, veteran pro-Europe Tory Ken Clarke has told the FT that Britain should be a constructive player in resolving this crisis, focussing on "how to maintain the financial stability of the western world", not trying to wring concessions from eurozone countries. Quite simply, France and Germany have bigger fish to fry as they try to save the single currency, and they will have no problem with acting without Britain.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.