The House of Lords. Photo: Leon Neal/AFP
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Parliament? Over the years I've met several powerful men there who have no idea of boundaries

Suffice to say that it’s an uncomfortable place for someone like me. One feels like a masked anarchist simply being there as a woman.

I remember very well the first time I went to the House of Fun. Westminster. The Commons. Parliament. Whatever you want to call it.

Like the fool that I am, I didn’t just nip in and out for the spicy bits. I sat in the chamber all day, every day, for aeons. Actually, maybe an entire three weeks. That’s still longer than many hacks who just turn up for the brawl that is PMQs.

First, I was given a guided tour and told how beautiful it all is. Here is Pugin’s throne. Here is the cupboard where the Queen gets dolled up for the opening of parliament. Here are some servants. Men with swords.

Possibly if I was a tourist from Utah, I might have found this “beautiful”, but the whole place is a cathedral of gloom with frilly bits and mannered decoration. It also smells, if repression has a smell.

Nonetheless, Westminster attracts a certain type. Not just politicians, but the kind of people who like to murmur in corridors and burrow away into its recesses. People who have grown up with, or grow to understand, a set of arbitrary and arcane rules paraded as tradition. Public school people.

Suffice to say that it’s an uncomfortable place for someone like me.

I spent the whole time, and still do, accidentally breaking rules.

One feels like a masked anarchist simply being there as a woman. A man in tights once tried to stop me entering the Press Gallery.

“You can’t go in there with that.”

“That” was a long scarf. Some ancient law, or the presumption that I was going to abseil down on to Michael Fabricant’s head? Who knows?

Several times, I was told off for talking. Near important people. Or for trying to get a sandwich in the wrong place. Or for trying to buy a drink in a bar that is for bishops only. Doh!!

I began to see how anyone cooped up there would have “moments of madness”. There’s something very odd about it all, but I wanted to understand it. So when a lord offered to take me to tea, I leapt at the chance to cross from the green carpet to the red and look at the Lords.

I thought Greville Janner, for it was he, would be explaining how the Lords functioned. Instead, he spent the entire time telling me about a birth he had attended. In gory detail. The birth of his grandchild.

This seemed to me extremely inappropriate. What woman has her own father there while she gives birth? I don’t know if what he told me was true. Mostly I squirmed, as I did not know why on earth he was describing this intimate experience to me.

All I can say now is that over the years, in this House of Rules, I have met several powerful men who have no idea of boundaries. Of any kind. At all.

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 24 April 2015 issue of the New Statesman, What does England want?

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The 8 bits of good news about integration buried in the Casey Review

It's not all Trojan Horses.

The government-commissioned Casey Review on integration tackles serious subjects, from honour crimes to discrimination and hate crime.

It outlines how deprivation, discrimination, segregated schools and unenlightened traditions can drag certain British-Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities into isolation. 

It shines a light on nepotistic local politics, which only entrench religious and gender segregation. It also charts the hurdles faced by ethnic minorities from school, to university and the workplace. There is no doubt it makes uncomfortable reading. 

But at a time when the negative consequences of immigration are dominating headlines, it’s easy to miss some of the more optimistic trends the Casey Report uncovered:

1. You can always have more friends

For all the talk of segregation, 82 per cent of us socialise at least once a month with people from a different ethnic and religious background, according to the Citizenship Survey 2010-11.

More than half of first generation migrants had friends of a different ethnicity. As for their children, nearly three quarters were friends with people from other ethnic backgrounds. Younger people with higher levels of education and better wages are most likely to have close inter-ethnic friendships. 

Brits from Black African and Mixed ethnic backgrounds are the most sociable it seems, as they are most likely to have friends from outside their neighbourhood. White British and Irish ethnic groups, on the other hand, are least likely to have ethnically-mixed social networks. 

Moving away from home seemed to be a key factor in diversifying your friendship group –18 to 34s were the most ethnically integrated age group. 

2. Integrated schools help

The Casey Review tells the story of how schools can distort a community’s view of the world, such as the mostly Asian high school where pupils thought 90 per cent of Brits were Asian (the actual figure is 7 per cent), and the Trojan Horse affair, where hardline Muslims were accused of dominating the curriculum of a state school (the exact facts have never come to light). 

But on the other hand, schools that are integrated, can change a whole community’s perspective. A study in Oldham found that when two schools were merged to create a more balanced pupil population between White Brits and British Asians, the level of anxiety both groups felt diminished. 

3. And kids are doing better at school

The Casey Report notes: “In recent years there has been a general improvement in educational attainment in schools, with a narrowing in the gap between White pupils and pupils from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African/Caribbean/Black ethnic backgrounds.”

A number of ethnic minority groups, including pupils of Chinese, Indian, Irish and Bangladeshi ethnicity, outperformed White British pupils (but not White Gypsy and Roma pupils, who had the lowest attainment levels of all). 

4. Most people feel part of a community

Despite the talk of a divided society, in 2015-16, 89 per cent of people thought their community was cohesive, according to the Community Life Survey, and agreed their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. This feeling of cohesiveness is actually higher than in 2003, at the height of New Labour multiculturalism, when the figure stood at 80 per cent. 

5. Muslims are sticklers for the law

Much of the Casey Report dealt with the divisions between British Muslims and other communities, on matters of culture, religious extremism and equality. It also looked at the Islamophobia and discrimination Muslims face in the UK. 

However, while the cultural and ideological clashes may be real, a ComRes/BBC poll in 2015 found that 95 per cent of British Muslims felt loyal to Britain and 93 per cent believed Muslims in Britain should always obey British laws. 

6. Employment prospects are improving

The Casey Review rightly notes the discrimination faced by jobseekers, such as study which found CVs with white-sounding names had a better rate of reply. Brits from Black, Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds are more likely to be unemployed than Whites. 

However, the employment gap between ethnic minorities and White Brits has narrowed over the last decade, from 15.6 per cent in 2004 to 12.8 per cent in 2015. 

In October 2015, public and private sector employers responsible for employing 1.8m people signed a pledge to operate recruitment on a “name blind” basis. 

7. Pretty much everyone understand this

According to the 2011 census, 91.6 per cent of adults in England and Wales had English as their main language. And 98.2 per cent of them could speak English. 

Since 2008-2009, most non-European migrants coming to the UK have to meet English requirements as part of the immigration process. 

8. Oh, and there’s a British Muslim Mayor ready to tackle integration head on

The Casey Review criticised British Asian community leaders in northern towns for preventing proper discussion of equality and in some cases preventing women from launching rival bids for a council seat.

But it also quoted Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and a British Muslim. Khan criticised religious families that force children to adopt a certain lifestyle, and he concluded:

"There is no other city in the world where I would want to raise my daughters than London.

"They have rights, they have protection, the right to wear what they like, think what they like, to meet who they like, to study what they like, more than they would in any other country.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.