Wednesday, April 14, 2010


First things first. Newspaper journalists are writing about the breakfasts they have at the early morning press conferences. (Apparently the Tory manifesto provided chocolate croissants, brioche, bacon and sausage sandwiches.) Just for the record, I had porridge and a crumpet this morning while the children fought over who had the most red bits in their cereal bowls.

Moving on. According to the Daily Telegraph, Cameron reached out to women voters with his manifesto yesterday. Female shadow ministers made speeches before him to prove how highly he rates women, and he focused on making Britain one of the most "family friendly" countries in the world. What's not to like about "family" and "friendly"? A family friendly country sounds great. Perhaps he could start with cafes and build up? "Every cafe to have wax crayons and paper for young customers", for instance. "Cafes to ban sniffy customers who stare accusingly at mortified mums trying to mop up juice spills and hush up noisy children."

There's a problem with Cameron's offer of a DIY revolution and women are going to spot it. The manifesto talks of:
*the redistribution of power to individuals, families and local communities.
*higher levels of personal and civic responsibility
*a society where people come together to solve problems and improve life for themselves and their communities
Parents will be enabled to start new schools and communities empowered to take over parks and libraries under threat.

Am I the only woman out there whose heart sank when I read "Our ambition is for every adult in the country to be a member of an active neighbourhood group"? Was it just me who heard the threat implicit in the pledge "We will stimulate the creation and development of neighbourhood groups, which can take action to improve their local area." There's even a spending pledge to fund the training of "independent community organisers" to help get these groups off the ground. And of course a "Big Society Day" to celebrate their work. (I am so looking forward to that one.)

The manifesto goes on: "Building the Big Society means encouraging the concept of public-spirited service - the idea that everyone should play a part in making their communities stronger."

And as final evidence that these manifestos aren't written by wives and mothers, but crafted by policy wonks who don't get out enough along with politicos in the business for life who only ever talk to other politicos in it for life, the assurance that a Tory government will "use the latest insights from behavioural economics to encourage people to make volunteering and community participation something they do on a regular basis."
I repeat. What?
You read a couple of hardback books of socio-economic psycho-babble and make a wish and the world changes and everyone in it. Yep. Like that's going to happen. If women are as important as they are supposed to be in this election, and this (along with SamCam looking bumpy and radiant) is all the Conservatives have in their armoury to appeal to them, then watch that electoral lead narrow, chaps.

I like the fact Cameron is an enthusiast and an optimist and believes he can change the world. I do. But the fact is talk to me about taking on anything else and I'm going to start screaming.

Women with families (friendly or otherwise) are operating at full stretch. If they are working as well, then they probably feel on a pretty regular basis that their lives are coming apart at the seams. They can hardly find time for the PTA, let alone become "a member of an active neighbourhood group." Oh good, something else to feel guilty about. Now you have to dodge the neighbourhood group chairman as well as the chairman of the PTA (and I speak as a former chairman of the PTA). Women will be hiding in the car boot from these people. They will tremble every time there is a knock at the back door. OK, there are indeed times we organise a petition to save a park or a playground, we fight some or other petty bureaucracy, and we bake three dozen currant buns for the cake sale at two o'clock in the morning because it's the only time we have. We'll do what we can when we have to. We already try our best. We already do our best. But please David, enough's enough. We can only do so much.


Sarah said...

Exactly; use of a free workforce? Done before, Camo- and 1 day a year holiday, when we get to bake buns for other sorry, tired, put-upon people?
Let's push the other way:
Wages for Home Management!
M.P.s to volunteer to run the country, and get 1 day off a year, to bake buns.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. I too am an ex PTA chair and have first hand experience of how hard it is to get people involved. Yes, people showed up in their hundreds for the school fete, but it was me and another parent who did all the prep - sorting out china crap at 8pm in a drafty school hall! I also agree about the policy wonks getting it so wrong - jeeze the thoughts of a Big Society Day leaves me the fek can I fit organisng THAT when I've to a full time job, two kids and a LIFE! I have hardly time to fart never mind harness community capital on my street...which, incidently is now sadly lacking many family homes, most of the houses now rented out to young workers from abroad....try and harness that Mr C. Now I consider myself a good citizen and I do get involved - because I want to, not because a 25 year old with a first in PPE has told me to. Harrumph.

billatbingley said...

Oh Dear, Oh Dear!

When are these politicos going to get real? It all sounds very laudable, but pie in the sky to me. Where are all these ladies/wives/mums with so much time on their hands that they are going to lead these wonderful new Neighbourhood Groups? Where will we find the independent community organisers?

I really think it's about time that David's politicos got real.

The main problem to me is that it's all going to be run by volunteers.

As you have already stated in your blog, it's just about impossible to get ladies/wives/mums to volunteer to join (or even attend) the PTA - and the parents are people who have a vested interest, so how on earth are they going to be interested in joining something as nebulous as a neighbourhood group?????

Kate said...

Bloody Tories - it's all just a load of rubbish: a meaningless smokescreen behind which lurk the same self-serving, "I'm all right Jack" policies which always lurked. No-one will want to or be able to start their own schools, or sit on committees. That's why we bloody have a government.

Mimi said...

I like the phrase "Policy wonks"- it even sounds derogatory!
We've an overflow of them here, and their ideas are just as bizarre, so if you run short, give us a tinkle!

bentonbag said...

You can't even bake cakes any more. Our PTA has been told whoever runs the cake stall has to have a Hygiene Certificate! So my homemade jam and chutney won't be at our Summer Fayre either. Every stall and table has to have a risk assessment and any entertainers (including vintage car displays) that and insurance! Not sure whether it's the Health & Safety thing gone mad or the Head being risk averse, but it's pretty hard to be community minded and active when every activity is bound up in wasteful and useless beauracracy

Manicmum said...

Yep - I spotted this too. Fancy language as smokescreen for ploy to burden mothers with more responsibilities. Perhpas we can fit in some 'hoodie-hugging' at weekends, too?!

scaryazeri said...

are you getting paid for this? :)

Z said...

In the next village (mine isn't community-minded) they open the village hall for Friday night socials - games like darts, pool, tennis and bowling in the summer, there's a rota of licensed people to run the bar and things for children to do - it enhances life for everyone, including those who put in the work. There's a huge support network for anyone who wants it - however busy people are, I think they'd all say that they receive at least as much as they put in. I have considerable doubts about state involvement in all this though - except for matters such as Bentonbag mentions as there is no such rule, it's the head being a killjoy - where bureaucracy should be lessened.

freddo41 said...


" . . . it's pretty hard to be community minded and active when every activity is bound up in wasteful and useless bureaucracy."

Cameron's point exactly.

freddo41 said...


"That's why we bloody have a government."

This government has introduced 4,200 new laws - more than half of which can land you in prison - AND THAT'S NOWHERE NEAR ENOUGH!
(I'm still allowed to do my own laces up without an official Risk Assessment! What's all that about?)

bentonbag said...

To be fair it's not the Head, she's had 'orders from above' presumably Offsted, the local authority or insurers. As usual you can never find out who exactly such edicts come from. Another member of our PTA works for an international firm where she has had to attend a 3 hour (yes THREE HOUR) presentation on how to climb stairs and regular updates on how to lift things - when the heaviest thing she lifts is a pen. Of course these are all ticked off on a bit of paper to satisfy the lawyers and insurance company. Insulting and infantilising but coming not from The Government but from all the quango ridden empire building layers below.

freddo41 said...


". . . insulting and infantilising but coming not from The Government but from all the quango ridden empire building layers below."

And who put all the quango ridden empire building layers below?

The Government.

Anonymous said...

pass the sick bag...

Bill Quango MP said...

Hasn't this policy been a little misrepresented? Possibly as it was a 'B' plan bought forward to replace the 'A' plan of savage cuts it isn't too clear.

but wasn't the idea that if you don't think your Head Teacher is up too much then you can have them removed. By referendum or something.
Probably part of the PTA program.

I don't think that the Tories actually want you to run the school yourself...
But then again...

AnnB said...

I couldn't agree more: People complain vocally but set up a campaign to try and get your local council to listen to opposing views and only about 20% of people will take action and email councillors etc. Too many people think nothing will change and cannot be bothered; they may sign a facebook page but that is the limit of their participation so the same people get left to fight local battles and get loads of flack from the councillors.