Taylor Swift, 2014’s “secret lesbian” of choice. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
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Let this be the year that we say goodbye to the secret lesbian

It’s 2015. Let’s just let women do stuff.

Have you ever noticed that no one’s ever rumoured to be nice? Or rumoured to be an accomplished Scrabble player, or rumoured to smell like tulips and pie? People are rumoured to be fart fetishists, UKIP supporters and, as of last year in particular: lesbians.

In 2014, everyone who was anyone was a secret lesbian. But just the right amount of secret. I.e. not too secret to stop the rumours from seeping into public consciousness. While the most noteworthy secret lesbian couple of last year was undoubtedly Taylor Swift and someone I’m supposed to have heard of called Karlie Kloss, I was told by at least seven stoked lesbians that the likes of Cheryl Cole and Mel B are “one of us, one of us”.

But I find it hard to believe that this secret lesbianism isn’t at least a little bit contrived. Let me explain. A lesbian is a woman who is only sexually attracted to other women. A secret lesbian is a (famous) woman who has been papped in some moderately adult situations with another woman, while vehemently denying that she’s into anything other than dicks. Many, many dicks.

For this reason, I’m hoping that 2015 will be the year that we say goodbye to the secret lesbian. This wouldn’t have to mean an end to adult situations between experimental/bi-curious/sexually fluid women. Those things are all lovely. What I’d like to see banished to the realm of UGG boots and burgers served on pieces of wood is all the speculation.

Admittedly, this will involve some effort on my part. There are two rather different groups of people interested in lesbian rumours: lesbians and homophobes. While former are cheering, “One of us”, the latter are sneering, “One of them”. In the middle is a sizeable chunk of the population who could not give less of a shit, and I think they have the right idea.

There’s a Hebrew phrase, loshon hora, which basically means nasty gossip. It’s the exact loshon hora-ness of lesbian rumours that I think we badly need to ditch. If there are rumours about a thing, that thing is most likely sordid or at least a tiny bit gross. If you think lesbianism is either of those things, I’m not sure why you’re reading this.

There’s a huge difference between lesbian visibility (something we could do with some more of) and smirk-forming headlines about clandestine boob-fondles between women who “seem” straight. When anyone is outed by the media, the overriding message should be, “I’m L, G, B or T and that’s great”, rather than, “Those pictures of me touching my friend’s butt mean nothing… or maybe they don’t.... what are you trying to say? Hm? Hmmm?”

So, if I believed in new year’s resolutions, maybe mine would be to stop feeding into loshon hora about supposed girl-on-girl action. I don’t think I’ll ever stop having a residual interest in who is and isn’t a lesbian. But it’s 2015, guys, let’s just let women do stuff.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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No, the Brexit vote wasn't just about immigration

The data shows that most voters want a fairer society. Labour must fight for this in the Brexit negotiations. 

The result of the UK referendum to leave the European Union has shaken the political establishment to its core. As I have argued since then, it should be a wakeup call to all political parties.

Some have also argued that the referendum result is having international repercussions, with the election of Donald Trump to the White House cited as "Brexit Plus Plus". With the imminent election in France, and Germany’s later this year, responsible analysts are trying to understand why people voted the way they did and what this means. Too often, there are knee jerk explanations without any evidentiary justification to back them up. 

Analysis of who voted to leave shows the majority of people who voted to leave live in the South of England, and 59 per cent were from the middle classes (A, B, C1). Only 21 per cent of people in the lowest income groups voted to leave.

Analysis of why people voted as they did is more complex. This includes an increase in Euroscepticism particularly from older, middle class voters; concerns about globalisation and the impact on jobs; inequalities and being left behind; and new voters who didn’t vote in the 2015 General Election, for whom immigration was a concern. When this analysis is overlaid on analysis of that election, some themes emerge. The attitudes and values of the majority of the British public are firmly rooted in the desire for a fairer society, based on principles of equality and social justice. Although immigration played a part in the election and referendum results, perceived competence, being "left behind" and disillusionment with the direction of change were the key drivers.

Whether people voted to remain or leave, they did so because they believed that they and their families would be better off, and the majority who voted believed they would be better off if we leave the EU. Labour accepts and respects this. We have said that we will vote for Article 50, but we intend to hold this Tory government to account to ensure we get the best possible deal for the country.

In his speech last week, Jeremy Corbyn set out the issues that Labour will hold the government to account on. We have been absolutely clear that we want tariff-free access to the single market, to ensure that Britain continues to trade openly with our European neighbours, and to protect the cost of living for families struggling to get by. Getting the best deal for the UK means that we must continue to have a strong relationship with our EU neighbours.

Under my work and pensions portfolio, for example, we know that 40 per cent of pension funds are invested outside of the UK. If we want to guarantee a dignified and secure retirement for our pensioners, we must ensure that savers can get the best returns for the investments they make.

We also know that many of the protections that have until now been offered by the European Union must continue to be guaranteed when we leave. Provisions that secure the rights of disabled people, or that protect worker’s rights are an essential part of British society, enhanced by the EU. These cannot be torn up by the Tories.

Defending these rights is also at the heart of our approach to immigration. The dire anti-migrant rhetoric from some parts of the media and certain politicians, is reprehensible. I reject this scapegoating, which has fear and blame at its heart, because it is not true. Blaming migrants for nearly seven wasted years of Tory austerity when they are net contributors of over £2bn a year to the economy is perverse.

Of course we need to respond when public services are coming under pressure from local population increases. That’s why Labour wants to reinstate the Migration Impact Fund that the Tories abolished. We also need to ensure new members of communities get to know their new neighbours and what’s expected of them.

We believe that migrants’ broader contribution to British society has too often been obscured by the actions of unscrupulous employers, who have exploited new arrivals at the expense of local labour. A vast network of recruitment and employment agencies has developed in this country. It is worth hundreds of billions of pounds. Last year over 1.3m people were employed in the UK by these agencies. In 2007, 1 in 7 of these people came from the EU. We should ask how many are recruited directly from the EU now, and offered precarious work on very low wages whilst undercutting local labour. Labour will put an end to this practice, in order to protect both those who come here to work and those that grew up here.

Importantly, however, we cannot let our exit from the EU leave us with skill shortages in our economy. Our current workforce planning is woeful, particularly for the long-term. We need to reduce our need for migrant labour by ensuring our young, and our not so young, are trained for the jobs of the future, from carers to coders. Again, the Conservatives have undermined people’s chances of getting on by cutting college funding and the adult skills budget.

Unlike the government, Labour will not shirk from our responsibilities to the nation. Our plans for Brexit will respect the referendum result, whilst holding the Government to account and delivering a better future for all our people, not just the privileged few.

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.