The worst thing about the coalition? The wasted opportunities

The chance to build a different kind of economy after the crash was lost. For real change, voters should look to the Greens.

As the saying goes, as one door closes, a window opens. Sadly the coalition’s approach to the feng shui of government has been to slam shut important policy windows, bolt the doors and throw away the key. This is a government of wasted opportunity.

2008-2010 represented a period of dramatic change – not just in the financial markets but in the arena of economic debate. As the housing boom turned to bust, questions were asked of the fable that unshackled capitalism, big business and endless growth should be the raison d’etre of government policy.

Paul Gilding’s book The Great Disruption: How the climate crisis will transform the global economy used a Boserupian framework to argue that, unless large (though ultimately positive) changes are made to our world economy, 2008 will only be a taste of things to come. Even David Cameron, leader of a party which, as its name suggests, is not generally enthusiastic about change, promised a great deal. He was snapped hugging hoodies and huskies, he added a lick of green (wash) to the Conservative emblem and he talked up the importance of people’s happiness as a guiding principle of government.

The latter of these points built upon a decade of important work in social science interrogating the assumed wisdom that happiness is inexorably linked to economic growth. Richard Layard’s book Happiness laid some of the foundations since built upon by the likes of the new economics foundation (nef). Layard showed how unequal societies driven by the need to earn more money and accumulate more goods are not only destructive to the earth but also to people’s happiness. Happier societies are those built on community values, family-life and a declaration of stalemate in the war to keep up with the Joneses.

Against this background, 2010 was supposed to be an election of great change. The public were prepared for it. We all bought into the idea that there was going to be painful but necessary change as easily as we have bought into the world of cats pulling grumpy faces. Sadly, the government let us down. Change, yes. Painful, undoubtedly. Positive, no. George Osborne has gone back to fuelling a housing bubble as if 2008 never happened. They’ve taken a slash and burn approach to benefits. Not only is action on climate change now off the menu but we’ve regressed to a point where denying its very existence is an okay thing to say in a mainstream broadsheet newspaper. Even Labour’s not-really-that-left-wing announcements at conference have been easily portrayed as the ghosts of Communist past. The coalition has divided and conquered.

What’s become apparent is that if you want real change, you have to vote for it – rather than expecting it from established parties who promise much but are ultimately encased by the trappings of their traditional backers, funders, and thinkers.

That’s why I’m a Green Party supporter: because they’re a party that believes in, and is committed to, change. They don’t think it unreasonable to give everyone a bigger slice of the pie when currently the top 1% possess the same wealth as 60% of the UK population combined. They don’t think it strange to suggest that everyone should earn at least the living wage – one that they can build a life around. They believe in the importance of community and a rejection of the old idiom that we live to work. They don’t think that privatisation has been a resounding success – not least for the railways. And, they believe we can tackle climate change and do so in a way that builds a better future around renewable energy and a sustainable and creative use of resources.

If you’re not satisfied with your current government provider and you’re thinking of switching, I’d certainly urge you to investigate the positive vision offered by the Greens.

Matt Hawkins is co-media office of the London Green Party

David Cameron and Nick Clegg visit Wandsworth Day Nursery on March 19, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Matt Hawkins is co-media officer of the London Green Party

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Is "successful" sperm really the measure of a man's masculinity?

An advertising campaign challenging men to "prove your worth" is being proposed to increase dwindling numbers of sperm donors – will the myth that only "real" men have potent sperm ever die?

Are you a superman? By which I mean, do you have the kind of sperm that would be accepted by the UK Sperm Bank, currently stuck with only nine donors on the books? Laura Witjens, chief executive, is currently launching a drive to recruit more donors. Her secret weapon? An appeal to male vanity.

Speaking to the Guardian, Witjens claims that if she advertised saying, “Men, prove your worth, show me how good you are”, it would be a route to gaining “hundreds of donors”. The implication is that beta males need not apply; this is for “real” men only. And what better way to demonstrate one’s manly credentials than through the spreading of one’s super-strength, 100 per cent proof, ultra-potent seed?

The proposed campaign approach serves to remind us of two things: first, the male ego is ridiculous, and second, reproductive ability is still treated as an indicator of whether or not one is a “successful” representative of one’s sex. However much we claim that biology is no longer destiny, certain expectations linger. “Real men” have high-quality sperm and want to see it distributed as widely as possible. “Real women,” on the other hand, only end up unable to reproduce if they have “left it too late” (that is, spent too much time in what is still seen as the world of men).

That fertility is primarily linked to luck rather than sexist morality tales is something we’d rather not admit. After all, far too many cultural edifices have been built around the idea that the opposite is true.

For something that resembles runny PVA glue, sperm has done well for itself. Throughout history, men have been obsessed with their precious seed and what it means for their status as the dominant sex. Since it is women who get pregnant – women who perform the actual task of gestating and birthing new human beings – there has always been a need to inflate the importance of semen, lest men should be sidelined completely. Whereas for women reproduction is a continuous process, for men it is more disjointed and conceptual. Hence it is important to have something to rely on. In sperm we trust.  

Otherwise can a man ever be sure – really, really sure – that a baby is his? For biological mothers, maternity is never in question. For biological fathers, paternity needs to be established. There are various ways of achieving this: heterosexual marriage, compulsory monogamy, the policing of women’s sexual choices, the withholding of material resources from women in return for sexual exclusivity, the threat of an appearance on Jeremy Kyle.

And then there are the various myths regarding how magical and special your own sperm is. It had to be you, didn’t it? He shoots, he scores. How else would the phrase “Who’s the Daddy?” have come into its current usage? The “skill” of impregnation is linked to manliness. If you’re a real man, the implication is, then you’ve nothing to fear.

The “superman” theme proposed by Witjens harks back to the various ways in which men have sought to position themselves and their sperm right at the centre of human reproduction, believing, for instance, that it already contained human beings in miniature, or that women merely provided the passive matter that would bring their active principle to life.

The biology I learned at school still played on the narrative of the hardy, valiant sperm battling against all odds to reach the passive, if somewhat capricious, egg. Sex education met gender indoctrination; it even seemed to be implied that the egg, in closing off entry to all other sperm once the “victor” had penetrated her boundaries, was being a bit of a tease (she’d already set off down the fallopian tube, what did she expect?). Pregnancy itself, we were led to believe, could never match the creativity, risk and drama of that one initial shag.

To respond to such myth-making with “but it’s only sperm and actually it could be anyone’s” seems positively mean. Women are supposed to worship it. Our effluvia – vaginal discharge, menstrual blood, breast milk – might be seen as disgusting, but when it comes to a man’s cum, it’s considered rude not to want to swallow it. People who respond with outrage when a woman suckles her baby in a crowded café think nothing of the idea that a real woman should want to gulp down semen with gusto. Patriarchal semiotics tell us that what comes out of men is life-giving and hygienic; women, on the other hand – popping out babies and sustenance – merely leak. It takes a brave woman to say, “hang on, is semen really all that?”

In the UK at least, it would seem that it isn’t. According to Witjens, getting one’s sperm approved for the UK Sperm Bank is exceptionally difficult because of how strong the product needs to be to survive the freezing and thawing process: “If 100 guys enquire, ten will come through for screenings and maybe one becomes a donor. It takes hundreds of guys.” Meaning most men don’t actually measure up to “superman” standards (without even considering what this approach says to men with a low sperm count, of whom it is suggested that the manhood test has been well and truly failed).

Her advertising strategy may be one that works. But it would be nice if, in a society that increasingly favours a politics of acquisition over one of care, we could be a little less focused on the potency of the mighty seed, looking instead at this particular form of donation as part of a broader process of creating and caring for others. Perhaps appeals to male vanity just work better than appeals to altruism. Even so, it’s a pity that it has to be so.

The aftermath of sperm donation can be complicated. Once one gets beyond the cash and the ego trips, the process can lead to real children with a real need to know the identity of the donor. Whereas in the past social convention allowed men to define ownership of children on their terms, nowadays globalisation and reproductive technology have led to a splintering of roles. Is it care or biology that makes a parent? What is it that shapes an identity and makes a person?

For most of us, the humane position is that nurture – the act of being there – must trump any biological contribution. To think otherwise is unfair on those who devote years of their lives to the raising of children. But for many donor-conceived adults, the donor is still needed to complete the picture of who one really is. And he will not be a superman. He will be a person who gave something small that nevertheless contributed to the creation of something miraculous: a life. And shouldn’t that be enough?

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