Better Together campaign head and former chancellor Alistair Darling. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Darling's rattled performance will increase No campaign anxieties

Better Together head gives tetchy interview after new Scottish independence poll confirms the gap has narrowed to just five points.

As a politician, Alistair Darling is renowned for his calm and reassuring manner (most famously during the financial crisis). But interviewed on The Andrew Marr Show this morning on Scottish independence, he appeared distinctly rattled. As I tweeted during the programme, he sounded like an embattled football manger giving a post-match interview after a bad result.

The bad result, in this case, was a new Panelbase poll (commissioned by pro-independence website Wings over Scotland) putting the Yes vote up four points to 41 per cent, the joint-highest level of support recorded since the campaign began, and the No vote up one to 46 per cent. When the "don't knows" are stripped out, the gap stands at 53-47.

Darling responded by pointing out that Panelbase surveys traditionally favour the No campaign and that "[if] you look at the change from this month to last month, it hasn’t changed one bit. Our lead is exactly the same." This is true (the gap stood at 53-47 in Panelbase's previous poll), but it also means that the earlier survey can't be dismissed as an outlier. With more than five months to go, the No side's lead really has narrowed from 12 points (the highest lead recorded by Panelbase) to just six. Darling also rightly noted that "every single poll conducted this year and last year as well shows us with a consistent lead". But given Alex Salmond's reputation as a strong finisher, this will be of little comfort to many on the Unionist side.

I expect that Darling's tetchy performance, which may have been an attempt to offer some much-demanded passion, will lead to further briefing against him. The Tories, who were warned by Lynton Crosby at the end of last year that the Yes campaign was on course for victory, increasingly fear that his prophecy will be fulfilled.

If the No side is to win, and to win convincingly, one figure who will need to play a bigger role than at present is Gordon Brown. Brown is one of the few Unionist politicians that Salmond concedes poses a threat to the nationalists. He is significantly more popular in Scotland than he is south of the border and has a strong connection with the working class swing voters that the SNP hopes will break for the Yes side in September. At the 2010 general election, while Labour's vote fell by 6.2 per cent across the UK, it rose by 2.5 per cent in Scotland and the party held onto all 41 of its seats. This was thanks in no small part to Brown, whose own constituency vote rose by 6.4 per cent.

His decision not to join the cross-party Better Together campaign, in favour of working with the United with Labour group, also makes it imposssible for Salmond to dismiss him as a Tory proxy. More than anything else, he is capable of displaying the authentic passion that so many are demanding from the No campaign.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Gender pay gap: women do not choose to be paid less than men

Care work isn’t going anywhere – and it’s about time we recognised which half of the population is doing it, unpaid.

Is it just me, or does Mansplain The Pay Gap Day get earlier every year? It’s not even November and already men up and down the land are hard at work responding to the latest so-called “research” suggesting that women suffer discrimination when it comes to promotions and pay. 

Poor men. It must be a thankless task, having to do this year in, year out, while women continue to feel hard done to on the basis of entirely misleading statistics. Yes, women may earn an average of 18 per cent less than men. Yes, male managers may be 40 per cent more likely than female managers to be promoted. Yes, the difference in earnings between men and women may balloon once children are born. But let’s be honest, this isn’t about discrimination. It’s all about choice.

Listen, for instance, to Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs:

“When people make the decision to go part time, either for familial reasons or to gain a better work-life balance, this can impact further career opportunities but it is a choice made by the individual - men and women alike.”

Women can hardly expect to be earning the same as men if we’re not putting in the same number of hours, can we? As Tory MP Philip Davies has said: “feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it.” Since we’re far more likely than men to work part-time and/or to take time off to care for others, it makes perfect sense for us to be earning less.

After all, it’s not as though the decisions we make are influenced by anything other than innate individual preferences, arising from deep within our pink, fluffy brains. And it’s not as though the tasks we are doing outside of the traditional workplace have any broader social, cultural or economic value whatsoever.

To listen to the likes of Littlewood and Davies, you’d think that the feminist argument regarding equal pay started and ended with “horrible men are paying us less to do the same jobs because they’re mean”. I mean, I think it’s clear that many of them are doing exactly that, but as others have been saying, repeatedly, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The thing our poor mansplainers tend to miss is that there is a problem in how we are defining work that is economically valuable in the first place. Women will never gain equal pay as long as value is ascribed in accordance with a view of the world which sees men as the default humans.

As Katrine Marçal puts it in Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, “in the same way that there is a ‘second sex’, there is a ‘second economy’”:

“The work that is traditionally carried out by men is what counts. It defines the economic world view. Women’s work is ‘the other’. Everything that he doesn’t do but that he is dependent on so he can do what he does.”

By which Marçal means cooking, cleaning, nursing, caring – the domestic tasks which used to be referred to as “housework” before we decided that was sexist. Terms such as “housework” belong to an era when women were forced to do all the domestic tasks by evil men who told them it was their principal role in life. It’s not like that now, at least not as far as our mansplaining economists are concerned. Nowadays when women do all the domestic tasks it’s because they’ve chosen “to gain a better work-life balance.” Honestly. We can’t get enough of those unpaid hours spent in immaculate homes with smiling, clean, obedient children and healthy, Werther’s Original-style elderly relatives. It’s not as though we’re up to our elbows in the same old shit as before. Thanks to the great gods Empowerment and Choice, those turds have been polished out of existence. And it’s not as though reproductive coercion, male violence, class, geographic location, social conditioning or cultural pressures continue to influence our empowered choices in any way whatsoever. We make all our decisions in a vacuum (a Dyson, naturally).

Sadly, I think this is what many men genuinely believe. It’s what they must tell themselves, after all, in order to avoid feeling horribly ashamed at the way in which half the world’s population continues to exploit the bodies and labour of the other half. The gender pay gap is seen as something which has evolved naturally because – as Marçal writes – “the job market is still largely defined by the idea that humans are bodiless, sexless, profit-seeking individuals without family or context”. If women “choose” to behave as though this is not the case, well, that’s their look-out (that the economy as a whole benefits from such behaviour since it means workers/consumers continue to be born and kept alive is just a happy coincidence).

I am not for one moment suggesting that women should therefore be “liberated” to make the same choices as men do. Rather, men should face the same restrictions and be expected to meet the same obligations as women. Care work isn’t going anywhere. There will always be people who are too young, too old or too sick to take care of themselves. Rebranding  this work the “life” side of the great “work-life balance” isn’t fooling anyone.

So I’m sorry, men. Your valiant efforts in mansplaining the gender pay gap have been noted. What a tough job it must be. But next time, why not change a few nappies, wash a few dishes and mop up a few pools of vomit instead? Go on, live a little. You’ve earned it. 

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