Ed Miliband's Commons tribute to Nelson Mandela: full text

"His extraordinary life calls on us all to keep on trying. For nobler ideals, higher purposes and for a bigger and not a smaller politics."

Mr Speaker, today we remember the incomparable life of Nelson Mandela.

This House traditionally gathers to pay tribute to those who have led our country.

It is unusual for us to meet to honour the leader of another.

Why was it so essential that we should commemorate the life of President Mandela in this way?

For simple reasons.

He is an enduring and unique symbol of courage, hope and the fight against injustice.

He teaches us the power of forgiveness, showing no bitterness towards his captors.

Just the love of a country that could be so much better if all of its people could be free.

And he demonstrates even to the most sceptical, the power of people and politics to change our world.

That is why we gather here today.

So on behalf of my Party, I send the deepest condolences to his widow Graca Machel, the Mandela family and all of the people of South Africa.

We mourn with them.

Today is an opportunity to remember the extraordinary story of Nelson Mandela’s life.

He led a movement - the ANC - that liberated his country.

He endured the suffering and sacrifice of 27 years in prison.

A son unable to attend his mother’s funeral.

A father unable to attend his son’s.

But in the face of such oppression his spirit never bent or broke.

Offered the chance of release in 1985, after more than 20 years in jail, on the condition he gave up the armed struggle, he refused.

“I cannot sell my birthright nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of my people to be free”, he said.

We honour him too because of the remarkable person the world found him to be after he walked out of prison in 1990, in those scenes we still remember today.

As his old comrade, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “suffering can embitter its victims but equally it can ennoble the sufferer.”

There can be nothing more noble than determining not to seek revenge on your oppressors but to seek reconciliation with them.

He truly was, as Archbishop Tutu said, an “icon of magnanimity”.

That is why he became not just the leader of a struggle but truly can be described as the father of a nation.

As we have seen in the tributes and emotion that he has inspired since his death in the black and the white communities in South Africa.

And we honour him too because for him the struggle against injustice was a story that never ended.

Having been an activist who became a President, he was a President who became an activist once again.

Campaigning on causes from debt relief to HIV/AIDS to the war in Iraq.

And we honour somebody too who wore his extraordinary heroism with the utmost humility.

A year after he gave up the Presidency, he came to the Labour Party Conference and described himself as “an unemployed pensioner with a criminal record.”

He famously said to Desmond Tutu who teased him for his taste in gaudy shirts, “it is pretty thick coming from a man who wears a dress in public.”

His empathy led him to seek out not the most famous person in the room but the least.

And his warmth made every person he met walk taller.

So we honour a man who showed the true meaning of struggle, courage, generosity and humanity.

But we gather here in our Parliament, in Britain, also to recognise that the history of our country was bound up with his struggle.

In a spirit of truth and reconciliation: South Africa was, after all, once a British colony.

But later Britain would become in Nelson Mandela’s own words “the second headquarters of our movement in exile.”

The Prime Minister and I and thousands of others went to sign the condolence book at South Africa House on Friday.

But it is easy to forget now that South Africa House was not always such a welcoming place for opponents of apartheid.

So we should also remember today the hundreds of thousands of people who were the anti-apartheid movement in Britain.

The people who stood month after month, year after year, on the steps of that embassy, when the cause seemed utterly futile.

The churches, trade unions, the campaigners who marched, who supported the struggle financially, culturally and in so many other ways.

The people who refused to buy South African produce and supported the call for sanctions.

People whose names we do not know from all over Britain who were part of that struggle.

As well as those who will be etched in history, including the leaders of the movement who found sanctuary in Britain, like Ruth First, Joe Slovo and others.

And, if the House will allow me, those in my own party who played such an important role, like Bob Hughes, now in the House of Lords, my Right Hon Friend the Member for Neath and so many more.

It may seem odd to a younger generation that apartheid survived as long as it did, given that now it seems to have been universally reviled the world over.

But of course, the truth and the history is very different.

The cause was highly unfashionable.

Often considered dangerous by those in authority and opposed by those in government.

The Prime Minister was right a few years ago to acknowledge the history.

It is in the spirit of what Nelson Mandela taught us, to acknowledge the truth about the past and without rancour to welcome the change that has come to pass.

But also to honour his legacy by acknowledging that in every country, including our own, the battle against racial injustice still needs to be won.

So we come here to honour the man, to acknowledge our history, and also for one final reason.

To recognise and uphold the universal values for which Nelson Mandela stood.

The dignity of every person, whatever their colour or creed.

Values of tolerance and respect for all.

And justice for all people, wherever they may live and whatever oppression they may face.

Nelson Mandela himself said: 'I am not a saint, I am a sinner who keeps on trying'.

His extraordinary life calls on us all to keep on trying.

For nobler ideals, higher purposes and for a bigger and not a smaller politics.

Inspired by his example and the movement he led.

We mourn his loss.

We give thanks for his life.

And we honour his legacy.

Photo: Getty
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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.