Commons Confidential: Carry on up the lobby

Featuring Ed Miliband's accidental coup, MPs in the nude, and flying too close to the <em>Sun</em>.

Ed Miliband’s accidental coup against David Cameron – and, by extension, Barack Obama – was as much cock-up as conspiracy. The Prime Minister’s strategic amateurism led him to recall parliament before victory was assured on the Syria vote. Miliband, on the other hand, is no peacenik. His line hardened when Labour whips found that half the parliamentary party was against war, with front-bench resignations likely to fill a minibus. The whips were instructed to inform MPs resolutely opposed to missile strikes that they had permission to miss the vote. The tactic backfired. Told he could remain on holiday, the Blaydon anti-bomber Dave Anderson defied orders and waved goodbye to the Hebrides for Westminster. Carl von Clausewitz would have recognised the unpredictability of war in parliament.
 
By the way, the government source quoted anonymously in the Times dissing Miliband as “a f***ing c*** and a copper-bottomed shit” was, I gather, an uncivil servant in the Foreign Office and not a Downing Street politico. The misogynistic deployment of the C-word was particularly undiplomatic. I’ve heard a name and so, presumably, has William Hague.
 
Tom Harris and Iain Wright are the Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau of British politics. A snout overheard Harris, the Glasgow South MP, complaining to Hartlepool’s Wright: “I have now seen both you and your dad naked.” Further inquiries established that the Labour odd couple share a London flat. Buy some towels, boys.
 
The Sun man Graeme Wilson exchanging Wapping for Cameron’s Downing Street should liven up the 7.03am train from Kingston to London Waterloo. Dave’s new press secretary has a house near Miliband’s director of communications, the former Mirror man Bob Roberts. Harry Hill would know how to judge the battle of the tabloid titans: “Which is better? There’s only one way to find out – fight!”
 
Feminist MPs are devising a new tactic to cover up page three topless models in the Sun. The plan is to slap “No More Page 3” stickers on the exposed chests of women in any copies in the House of Commons library. Not quite Emily Wilding Davison hiding in a broom cupboard on the night of the 1911 census or Marjory Hume chaining herself to a statue in St Stephen’s Hall but suffragettes would recognise this as “deeds not words”.
 
The pull of TV prompted 40 newspaper hacks, including at least one Fleet Street political editor, to apply to be number six on the Sky News lobby team. Because of the scramble, it would have been simpler if those political scribblers uninterested in the job had ruled themselves out. And before anybody asks, no, this journalist did not apply. 
 
Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror
 
 
Westminster. Photo: Getty

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 09 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Britain alone

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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.