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Hang on Theresa May, there definitely are setbacks people face “because they’re girls”

The PM has made feminists look weak and whining, when really we're just asking for the chance to be equal. 

Theresa May has been interviewed by US Vogue and after reading it, I am making this face:

During the interview, there's a bit where the writer accompanies her to a school in Maidenhead, and adorable children ask her questions. First, there's this:

“If you had a superpower, what would it be?”

“I think I’d want to make sure that everyone in the world had access to clean water and sufficient food, so that we didn’t see people starving,” she said.

This isn't so much a superpower, though, is it, as a description of politics? I mean, this is literally the point of that 0.7 per cent GDP target for overseas development, because there are lots of places in the world without access to clean water. South Sudan is experiencing a famine right now. Maybe mention this next time you see Priti Patel, Mrs May. It will BLOW HER MIND. (Also, if you're a charity leader, maybe send her a cape.)

Then there is this:

“What advice would you give to girls who want to be prime minister?”

“Be yourself,” she suggested. “And if you have any setbacks, don’t ever think it’s because you’re a girl.”

But... but... what if some of the setbacks you face are because you are a girl?

I get the appeal of right-wing bootstrappery, which tells people not to wallow in misery, but let's not overshoot here. Theresa May has done many solidly feminist acts, including tightening the law on FGM. I'm pretty sure that's a "setback" which happens "because you're a girl". She's also demonstrated a commitment to tackling domestic violence, promising to stop survivors facing their abusers in court. Again, domestic violence is heavily gendered: almost all incidents which end in death are committed by men against women. That kind of gender-based violence is explicitly a "setback" you might face because you're a woman. 

In fact, in her very first speech as prime minister, Theresa May spoke about the pay gap, which doesn't happen by some kind of mad cosmic coincidence to divide along gender lines. Listen to the wise words of Theresa May of June 2016, Theresa May of March 2017: "If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man." Or even listen to the Theresa May of the previous bit of the Vogue interview, who reacts to being confronted with the fact that in 1997 the Tories elected 13 women, when Labour elected 101, by admitting: "The party did have a problem." In other words, the selection process was (and is) biased against women; our political culture was (and is) hostile to women; and women's lives and caring responsibilities make it harder for them to get involved in politics. There are any number of setbacks you can face if you want to be prime minister "because you're a girl" (or even a bloody difficult woman). 

It's disheartening that someone like Theresa May - who has quietly worked behind the scenes to make the Tory party less systemically biased against women - should feel the need to deny the reality of structural sexism. Why do it? There are setbacks that women face just because they're women. I know it's tempting - and far less radically challenging to the status quo - to argue that you, particularly, are different and that your success is proof that anyone can do it, by insisting that really, most women just don't want it enough, have different interests, aren't naturally interested in power or earning money or STEM subjects, or whatever the latest trend is. But that's pure Cool Girl exceptionalism. 

Denying that there are setbacks we face just because we're women makes feminists look weak and whining, when really we're just asking for the chance to be equal. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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