I turned 40 earlier this month. The MP Stella Creasy once described me as the Kim Kardashian of politics as I seemed to remain permanently in my mid-thirties. Alas, those days are gone.
I am going to put it down more to a mixture of hangover and a head cold than any sort of existential crisis, but I do feel utterly knackered. I gave myself the weekend off in order to see my family and friends for celebrations. I decided I would not look at my emails, Twitter or other social media; I would just hang out with my loved ones, who were coming from far and wide. This lasted approximately five minutes until various journalists were messaging, asking me to comment on or appear on their shows regarding the government’s latest knee-jerk women’s safety initiative: an app, made in partnership with BT, that would track women as they walk around. I feel as if I am living in an episode of the decades-old The Thick of It, “I Call App Britain”. This is why I am knackered.
Say their names
Turning 40 reminds me of the decades I have been working in women’s safety. My voice is not only hoarse from shouting over the noise at my birthday party but from saying the same thing for 20 years. The new app would apparently cost £50m – even though a very similar app already exists, developed by the Hollie Gazzard Trust. Hollie was murdered in 2014 by her ex-partner, having previously reported him to the police. Following Hollie’s death the Independent Police Complaints Commission concluded that the force had inadequate domestic abuse policies and training. That report was published shortly before I was elected to parliament six years ago. In mid-September the inspectorate of police, in a report commissioned after the killing of Sarah Everard, pointed to the low priority police give to violence against women, and differences in approach across the country. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who commissioned the report, has not said whether its recommendations will be carried out, but is in talks about BT’s app. Round and round we go.
I wonder what the name of the woman will be, when I turn 50, whose death will be presented as the case that is going to change everything. By then, more than a thousand further women will likely have been killed by men, and some half a million will have been told that their rape will lead to no charges. Maybe it isn’t the hangover making me feel bad after all. How is it that Patel looks so cheerful?
No time for recess
When I ask ministers when we will get the long-awaited Victims Bill, or I push them to update regulations about unsafe accommodation for vulnerable people, they often say the same thing: “You’re right, Jess, we do care about this, but there isn’t the parliamentary time to work on it at the moment.” Which seems odd because parliament is closed until 18 October for conference recess, even though the majority of conferences are over and Boris Johnson has been having a very nice time in his rich mate’s villa in Marbella.
If the government’s recent habit of rushing through legislation on unfair tax rises in a week is anything to go by, I am simply not sure why we need recess. So that the politically engaged can drink warm white wine in a conference centre, or go on off-season mini-breaks? We could be doing the stuff that ministers claim to care about.
Always one to cling to the coat-tails of the zeitgeist, I have started watching the Netflix series Squid Game. I am, to be honest, yet to find it the masterpiece that everyone thinks it is. I like Running Man, Battle Royale, The Hunger Games and the lesser-known Rutger Hauer classic Wedlock as much as the next 40 year-old – but I am not sure what all the fuss is about.
Living in a Covid nation
I have a cold, although obviously I thought it was Covid. An alarming number of my friends have had the virus in the past two weeks and a worrying number of my children’s classmates, who were not given the chance to be vaccinated in a timely way, are off school. It could be confirmation bias (when it affects me it seems like a big issue again) but it really doesn’t feel as though Covid is abating. I marvel at how regularly I am now sticking spiky swabs up my nose and pulling them out hopefully – with families up and down the country playing a human-sized game of KerPlunk.
Watch out, though – saying you know a lot of people who are ill or off work will have Johnson telling you that you are a miserable pessimist with no vision. Realism is so last year.
This article appears in the 13 Oct 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Perfect Storm