The "People’s Policy Forum" is symbolic of a change in the culture of the Labour Party

We will not treat the British people like fools - we want to hear what everyone has to say, says Angela Eagle.

This Saturday, Ed Miliband and Labour’s shadow cabinet will join nearly two thousand members of the public in Birmingham. The "People’s Policy Forum" is one of many opportunities for members of the public to shape Labour’s offer to the British people in 2015. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on the other hand have spent recent weekends addressing party faithful at spring conferences. While they are concerned with resolving internal disputes, Labour is united and looking outwards, talking to the public rather than talking to itself.

With just over two years to go until the election, people want to know what One Nation Labour offers as an alternative to this unfair and incompetent government.

While it would be tempting to satisfy that demand by drawing up a list of easy promises on the back of an envelope, the reality is that that would be wrong and counterproductive. The process of writing the next manifesto must be considered and reflective. It must encourage deliberation and debate. People must feel that they can have their say. We have to listen and analyse before we can provide the right answers with certainty. The next manifesto won’t be built on the whims of politicians on the TV show couch, but on the ideas, hopes and dreams of the British public.

Saturday’s People’s Policy Forum is symbolic of a change in the culture of the Labour Party. We have transformed how we make policy to ensure that it is formed in the reality of people’s lives, in their words and on their terms. At the heart of our new conversation is our policy website. Members of the public, organisations, charities and members of political parties are all joining together in debate and discussion on the site, and their ideas will feed directly in to the policy process.

We have a clear timetable and a transparent process for the creation of our manifesto in 2015. We have already made significant strides, one concrete example being the ten policy documents on issues ranging from engaging young people in politics to the NHS, tax havens and childcare that will be launched at the People’s Policy Forum. These will all be put on to Your Britain in the coming days for further discussion and debate.

Labour’s approach has always been different to the top down process pursued by other political parties, but we need to go further. As chair of our renewed policy process, I am determined that we change.

Our politics today is more about the sound bite than it is about the debate. We must have the courage to shake that consensus. We should not be ashamed that our answer to the question ‘What would you do?’ is that we will take our time to get it right, we will not make promises we can’t keep, we will not treat the British people like fools. We need a new way of doing politics, and Labour is taking the first steps.

Angela Eagle MP is the chair of Labour’s policy process and shadow leader of the House of Commons

Signs displayed during the recent Eastleigh by-election. Photograph: Getty Images
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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

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