Recently in Leadership, Governance & Scrutiny Category

pink calculator & spectacles caseSonia Sotomayor is the lawyer and judge who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy on the bench of the American Supreme Court. This week Judge Sotomayor has been grilled at a senate hearing about her suitability for the post. She is also Hispanic and a woman. This it seems gives rise to fears by interrogating Senators that her judgements may differ from those made previously.

Social Inclusion & Diversity

The hearings on whether Sonia Sotomayor should become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court have been both predictable and in some ways depressing: her eleven inquisitors include just two women and the dialogue has reflected this.

Obama's broad church
On the other hand President Obama, in nominating Judge Sotomayor, has demonstrated again (as he has with other appointments, such as that of Hillary Rodham Clinton to the post of Secretary of State) that he intends his administration to be a broad church, inclusive of the talents of people of many sorts.

It's interesting that Sonia Sotomayor was able, in sworn evidence, to affirm that the President did not ask her personal views on matters such as abortion and gun control - issues which persistently appear in every hearing for appointments to the Supreme Court. Nor, apparently, do Sotomayor and Obama agree about the relevance or otherwise of 'empathy' in legal judgement (she says she puts it aside; he sees it as relevant).

The obstacles of gender and ethnicity - and class?
It looks increasingly likely that Judge Sotomayor's appointment will be confirmed. After the usual party political jostling, significant Republicans on the panel have indicated they will not oppose her nomination.

But why, and how, do these people think it appropriate to suggest that Sonia Sotomayor's gender and ethnicity are critical issues which might mitigate in the future against fair and transparent interpretation of the law?

Sotomayor's personal background is not unlike that of Obama; her early life, living in public housing in the Bronx, was uncompromisingly unprivileged. Perhaps social class also plays an unacknowledged part here. The Republicans amongst the Senators grilling her are not of the Grand Old Party (GOP) for nothing.

Privileged white men
But surely even they can see that the Supreme Court has thus far been an enclave of privileged white men? In its entire history it has been administered by 111 justices, only two of them so far women (the majority of the population), and none Hispanic (the fastest growing ethnic group in the USA).

Perhaps the Supreme Court has always adhered to interpretation of the law, with no fear or favour (though frightening statistics on what sorts of criminals are not excused judicial slaughter, for instance, might suggest otherwise).

But as far as I can tell, not many of these white, male, privileged nominations for the Supreme Court have been quizzed for days and days about whether their personal demographic provenance will endanger justice for all US citizens.

Politics and competencies
Assurances of propriety and competence are essential before any Supreme Court justice is appointed. Party political posturing is inescapably part of the game.

It's a ritual of Supreme Court nomination that questions have to be asked about every imaginable variable, and that Senators at the hearing go to extraordinary lengths not to set procedural precedence which they may later find uncomfortable.

Striking failures of insight
But, glaring omissions of insight about how and by what sorts of people the US law and constitution have been determined in the past.....?

Small wonder during her inquisition that Judge Sotomayor has stuck unservingly to the position simply that: "The task of a judge is not to make law. It is to apply the law."

I'm not a US citizen, but I am a citizen of a country which, like the US, seeks, in however flawed a way, to achieve fairness and equality. That fundamental - and perhaps intended? - apparent omission of insight on the part of Sonia Sotomayor's inquisitors I find downright bizarre.


Read more about Social Inclusion & Diversity and Political Process & Democracy.

09.06.04  European election Stop the BNP The 2009 European Elections on June 4 are no ordinary political exercise; this time it's about fundamental democracy, not 'just' party politics. There is a real danger the BNP will gain seats, unless everyone gets out and votes strategically - especially in the NW of England, where the BNP are focusing much attention. European Parliamentary seats are allocated proportionally, so the BNP will probably gain a NW seat unless Labour receives enough support for three candidates to be successful. Essentially that means it's Theresa Griffin (Labour) versus N. Griffin (BNP leader)...

The world (as Albert Einstein reminded us) is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.

In this case, the result of doing nothing could be very unpleasant indeed. There is a real risk, if turnout in the 4 June '09 European elections is low, that the British National Party (BNP) will gain a seat in the European Parliament.

Once a BNP member was elected, they would have the resources which are required to be allocated to each and every MEP, and the legal right to have their far-right-wing opinions heard. This frightening prospect of real power for the BNP is why they are fighting so hard to win a NW of England European Parliamentary seat.

Proportional representation
In the 2004 European elections the BNP got 6.4% of the vote in the NW of England region, but no seat. This time they could need as little as 8% to gain one*.
[* Later: this is exactly what happened; please refer to footnote below.]

It has been calculated that only a strong vote for the Labour Party candidates (see note to follow) is likely to ensure the critical 8% level is not reached.

Keep the BNP out
As well as yourself voting against the BNP, you can help to keep the them out by supporting the non-party-political HopeNotHate campaign.

09.06.04  European election Stop the BNP

How to vote: the practicals
But actually making the effort to vote yourself is fundamentally important, whatever else you do.

The mechanics of voting are easy, but not everyone has voted before, so please bear with me whilst I do a quick run-through of what happens. Unless you already have a postal vote (which comes with its own instructions), all you need do is take some ID - preferably but not essentially your voting card - to a Polling Station on election day.

You can find out where the (many, local) Polling Stations are by phoning your town council, if needs be. They are open from 7 am till 10 pm on the day of the Election, Thursday 4 June.

At the Polling Station you will be given a voting slip which you take into a private booth, where a pen will be provided. How you vote is entirely up to you alone, but in the European elections you can only vote once, with a cross - nothing else - against the political party you have chosen. For example:

09.06.04  NW of England European election Labour Party candidates

When you have made your choice, you simply fold the paper so your vote can't be seen, and take it over to post into the nearby ballot box.

That's it. Just a very few minutes of your day, and an infinitely smaller sliver of your life, to keep democracy alive.

How European Parliamentary seats are allocated
After polling closes, the votes will be counted, and the political parties with the most votes will be allocated seats in the European Parliament on a proportional basis.

The names of the individuals who will take these seats has already been decided in rank (preference) order by each of the political parties - you can see what this order of preference is when you look at the voting paper itself.

Most parties in the NW of England European elections have listed eight names, because that's how many seats are allocated to this region; but no party expects to send all eight of their candidates to the European Parliament.

The allocation of European Parliamentary seats is calculated proportional to the total vote - and since there are in fact thirteen Parties contesting just eight seats, any party with over [13 party options divided by 8 seats = about] 8% will very probably gain a seat.

09.06.04  European election voting part-list

This is why it's so crucially important to ensure the BNP gets an extremely low proportion of the vote - and this will only be achieved if a high percentage of the electorate actually get out to vote for the main political parties, and especially (in the NW of England particularly) Labour.

In other regions of the UK alternative ways to vote strategically against the BNP may apply.

NW Labour fights the BNP
The candidates whom the Labour Party 'slate' (list of candidates) emphasise are Arlene McCarthy, Brian Simpson and Theresa Griffin; the first two have already been MEPs for several years, and Theresa Griffin*, who lives in Merseyside, has also been active in local European politics for a very long time.
[*NB no relation to any other non-Labour candidate with the same surname]

You can check these candidates out, or contact them direct, through the links attached to their names as above.

Theresa Griffin, Brian Simpson, Arlene McCarthy

But whatever you do, it's crucial to realise that your vote can help keep the BNP out.

If you prefer other, non-Labour candidates that's absolutely your democratic choice; but everyone needs to know that not-voting (or indeed voting - however earnestly - for small parties which cannot realistically win a seat) may end up with just the same result as actually voting for the BNP.

For me, having decided my personal politics already, it's straightforward. I am a member of the Labour Party and will vote for its European Parliamentary candidates.

Strategic voting
This is not however a party-political blog, and I have never written a piece just supporting a party line for the sake of it, or asking anyone to vote simply along party political lines.

If you think there are other strategically feasible and decent ways of ensuring the BNP does not blight British politics through gaining a European Parliamentary seat from the NW of England, this space is yours to make the case... and to accept the political debate, as I have done here.

Democracy in action
Caring about democracy means being open about things and exercising the freedom to discuss without fear what you believe in, and why.

Never in modern times has it been more important to do so.

Whatever your mainstream political party of choice, please be sure to exercise your democratic right to vote on 4 June 2009 - and encourage other people, every way you can, to do the same.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


P.S. 8 June 2009

Exactly what we all so much hoped wouldn't happen has become a reality. The BNP NW candidate has gained a seat in the European Parliament.

The final results for the NW of England are:

Seats: 8 (previously, 9)
Turnout: 1,651,825 (31.9%)
Electorate: 5,206,474

Votes for main parties
Conservative: 423,174 (25.6%, up 1.5%) 3 seats (as before)
Labour: 336,831 (20.4%, down 6.9%) 2 seats (3 before, lost 1)
UK Independence Party: 261,740 (15.8%, up 3.7%) 1 seat (none before)
Liberal Democrats: 235,639 (14.3%, down 1.6%) 1 seat (as before)
British National Party: 132,094 (8.0%, up 1.6%) 1 seat (none before)
Green Party: 127,133 (7.7%, up 2.1%) no seats (as before)

To quote Nick Robinson, on his surgically precise BBC Newsblog:

Nick Griffin [British National Party: BNP] is now a Member of the European Parliament even though he won fewer votes than he did five years ago.

That's right, fewer.

In 2004, the BNP in the North West polled 134,959 votes. In 2009, they polled 132,194 [132,094?]. So, why did he win?

In short, because of a collapse in the Labour vote from 576,388 in 2004 to 336,831 in 2009. In Liverpool, Labour's vote dived by 15,000; in Manchester by almost 9,000; whilst in Bury, Rochdale and Stockport, its vote halved.

The switch away from postal votes for all in the last Euro election in the region also led to a fall in turnout.

Thus, the BNP could secure a higher share of the vote whilst getting fewer votes.

.... and this, sadly, is the very thing we most feared (above) might come to pass.


Read more about Political Process And Democracy.

Woman executive red briefcase, pink notebook + accessories The current financial chaos is producing a lot of debate about regulation. On one hand we're told that very tight scrutiny, emboldened by severe legislation, is a must; whilst others say more 'good, moral people' from the City are the answer. Both positions have merit. But urgent action to widen the pool from which Board Directors is drawn is one essential and immediate option, insisting that many more women become directors of the most influential companies.

Few would deny that, as Andrew Phillips said recently in The Guardian, a 'welter of regulation' cannot in and of itself avoid further catastrophe for the Threadneedle Street and City of London and Wall Street.

Of course 'good, moral' people are a pre-requisite of effective reformation of the financial system; and of course this must include people of 'all talents'.

Diversity improves scrutiny
What Lord Phillips might also propose, however, is that none of this is likely to deliver unless the talents involved are those of a truly diverse lot, in background, ethnicity, gender and otherwise.

The best way to secure proper scrutiny is to ensure, however well meaning they might be, that decision-making groups are not also a collection of people with much, beyond the necessary skills and expertise, in common.

Diversity improves business performance too
We already know that diversity at the top makes for successful business. Group members of different sorts, from a variety of backgrounds, aren't an optional extra when it comes to effective group working. They're essential.

And the UK workplace equality legislation to deliver this - applicable as much in the boardroom as on the shopfloor - is already in place.

Read more about Business & Enterprise and about Gender & Women.

Leading by umbrella How do people come to be leaders in their communities? Are they anointed or appointed? Do they take or earn the authority to represent their peers? What are the rationales behind their belief that they should lead? Do others agree? And what are their objectives, and why? It all depends on where you're coming from, and what sort of 'community' it is. So how should those who work in regeneration with communities and their leaders approach this complex and delicate issue?

The answer to these questions is, of course, that there is in fact No One Answer.

People come to be leaders through many different routes. For some authority and legitimacy is always a struggle. For others it just comes with who you are.

Different 'communities' for different purposes
This is a tale of different 'communities' in different places and at different times. Some communities are geographically based, some interest based, some economic, some cultural.

'Communities' can comprise locations defined by their mono-cultural base (whether Protestant, Punjabi or Presbyterian), whilst at the other end of the spectrum some exist only as loosely connected groups of people who enjoy Politics, Portsmouth City or Painting. Leadership in these different communities will obviously not be of just one kind.

Intentions and expected outcomes
The intended outcomes of the leadership role vary. Some people believe they're there to uphold tradition and (in their mind) maintain stability in an unstable world. Others seek to be leaders precisely so they can change things.

Traditional leaders and those (at the opposite end of the spectrum) who are of the 'change the world' tendency often to see their remit as wide. Others have more piece-meal and modest expectations, perhaps to improve things in a specific and direct way.

Authority to lead
The really interesting thing is that traditionalists and revolutionaries alike usually derive their authority from (what they perceive as) universal social values or mores. But those who seek more modest and specific changes tend to legitimise their positions in reasoned ways, perhaps in terms of the avoidance of harm or similar logically justifiable and rational objectives.

There is a chasm between those who exert overall authority as such - whether to maintain the status quo or radically to alter it - and those who seek to manage specific change, which they believe can be demonstrated to be for the better.

And these forms of influence are not randomly distributed. They tend to be associated with differences in community / cultural experience, age, gender and class. One person's assumption of power and influence may well become, without any such overt intention, another person's disempowerment.

Competing beliefs and challenges
Community leadership and wider social interests are sometimes hard to bring together in a world where there are competing beliefs about what legitimate authority in a community might be; and indeed about what constitutes a 'community'.

Here lies one of the biggest challenges for those of us who seek to work with people in their (and our) own localities. Delivering stability and change together is hard to handle well.

In diversity lies strength?
Where the bottom line is overt - in for instance FTSE 100 Board Rooms - the evidence is incontrovertible, that diversity of gender (e.g. The McKinsey Report: Women Matter) and culture enhances good decision-making.

But how can (or 'should') we apply that knowledge in communities where at present the bottom line is not overt (what exactly is being 'lead'?) and is certainly not up for discussion?

Read also
Social Diversity & Inclusion
and
'Workable' Regeneration: Acknowledging Difference To Achieve Social Equity ('Regeneration Rethink')

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote Launch Simon Woolley speaks in Liverpool Town Hall 001a.jpg Liverpool's Operation Black Vote programme was launched today in our Town Hall. This ambitious movement intends to establish an emerging generation of politicians of all 'races', cultures and faiths, who have been mentored early in their careers by existing councillors. The event this evening demonstrated that OBV's aim is shared by all our civic leaders, and that they believe they will indeed deliver.

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  launch Liverpool Town Hall 007a

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote Cllr Anna Rothery 320x300 l 008a 08.05.29a Operation Black Vote: The next generation?   Keziah Makena 010a

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  Cllrs Anna Rothery & Joe Anderson 011

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote Liverpool Town Hall reception 026a 08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  Janet Robinson & Francine Fernandes 365x385 027a

08.05.29a Operation Black Vote  Lord Mayor Cllr Rotheram & OBV participants 020a


Further information on Operation Black Vote.

Read more:
Social Inclusion & Diversity

Camera & Calendar

Merseyside County Council (logo) shield Incredibly, it was twenty two years ago that the Conservative government closed down the Metropolitan County Councils , thereby ensuring control from the national centre of power. The impact on local decision-making was huge, as was the effort subsequently required to rebuild the regional administrative decision-making process.

The Metropolitan County Councils, like the Greater London Council and the Inner London Educational Authority, were powerful bodies representing local and regional interests, and were seen as irritants on the national body politic. So Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided they 'had to go'.

But as Dr Richard Beeching also demonstrated, when years earlier he closed many local and regional railway lines, it takes little time to destroy something which holds together the physical or political regional infrastructure - and an enormous amount of money and effort to reinstate it.


Merseyside County Council closure reception invitation 20th March 1986 'For workers in the Merseyside arts community'

This is the invitation I received to the Merseyside County Council closure reception for 'Workers in the Merseyside Arts Community', on 20 March 1986, at Metropolitan House, Old Hall Street, Liverpool. The evening was hosted by Cllr Keva Coombes, a local lawyer and Leader of the Merseyside County Council.

See more photographs at Locations & Events and read more about Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions.

08.3.16a Cross arms 115x96 001aa.jpgSenior women leaders are often criticised for being less confident than the men, and for feeling unable to delegate. Is this any wonder, when those very men don't play fair? It's time for sexist attitudes in the corridors of power to be challenged head-on - which is exactly what Margot Wallström, Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders Ministerial Initiative, has just been doing.


The truth is, men choose men. It is as simple as that – not a question of lack of ambition, of interest or of aptitude from women.

So, in her article A thick layer of men, says Margot Wallström, Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders Ministerial Initiative, a network of current and former women presidents, prime ministers and ministers aiming 'to promote good governance and enhance democracy globally by increasing the number, effectiveness, and visibility of women who lead at the highest levels in their countries'.

Chaps' clubs
Well, I of course agree. There has to be some explanation of the neglect of women's (much-needed) talents, and the most obvious is that they're not part of the Gang. Until 90 years ago, women in the UK weren't even permitted to vote, let alone to be members of the UK's ultimate chaps' club, Parliament, where many of the really big decisions are made.

We all know that the dynamic of debate and decision-making changes as the gender ratio also changes, both for men and for women.

And of course some men are always fairminded and exemplary in their professional conduct and beliefs; but sadly not as yet in sufficient numbers to secure the fundamental changes essential for genuine gender (or other) equality.

Determined rather than confident?
Maybe this explains claims at the moment that there may now be more women taking leadership roles, but these women are 'less confident' than their male peers, and feel more obliged to 'check the detail' and don't like to delegate.

You can only let the detail go, and feel confident, if you know that what you ask to be done, is indeed being done.

The next step towards gender equality can only be taken by the male half of the workforce. When men (and some other women) are as amenable to women as to men issuing the orders, leaders who happen to be female will feel confident that they don't need to check up on everything.

Challenge the sexism, not the upshot
Until that's fully grasped - and until ungendered collaboration and compliance in the workplace becomes a required part of professional behaviour for everyone - criticism of women's leadership styles is, quite simply, unfair and out of order.

All power, I say, to Margot Wallström's elbow, as she puts the ball back firmly in the chaps' court.

Diverse crowd 177x110 076a.jpg Today (20 February 2008) saw the formal launch of the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA)'s Equality and Diversity Framework and Network. The event, at the Abbey Community Centre in Westminster, was attended by people from across the regeneration world, and produced much discussion about how BURA and its partners could move forward.

In my role as BURA Champion for Equality and Diversity I was lucky enough to join our President, Sir Jeremy Beecham, and other colleagues, in presenting and discussing initial ideas about this challenging issue.

Your views too are welcome. To begin the debate, this is what I said:

BURA Regeneration Equality and Diversity Framework Launch
Wednesday 20 February 2008, Westminster, London


This event was set up, as Sir Jeremy explained, because of serious concerns which the BURA Board has about inclusivity in regeneration.

The evidence is before our eyes; the top of the profession is overwhelmingly populated by white men.

Regeneration fits the white male stereotype for leadership in Britain only too well; and the stereotype extends even to the BURA Board itself, where Directors are elected from amongst our hundreds of members.

Something has to be done. No-one disputes that, as regeneration practitioners, we must address inclusion; but few of us have articulated how this intention fits in with regeneration. And fewer still I suspect, are sure how to do it.

The BURA Board has therefore decided to invite your help and support as we move forward on this challenging issue.

What is inclusivity and why does it matter?
A look at the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission gives us a good feel for what an inclusive society might look like.

It would be a society in which people had safe and secure opportunities to enjoy a happy and healthy life.

In this society people of every sort would find themselves in positions of influence and leadership, and able to work towards a situation which in turn releases the potential of others.

This would be a society in which we, as regeneration practitioners, understood the impact of our work on all our fellow citizens, and then applied that knowledge across all our activities.

It would be a society in which, say, Asian women in Bury had as much opportunity to develop their interests and employment potential as white men in Cheltenham. It would be a society in which families in both these communities were equally likely to see their children born healthy and strong, with an equal expectation of a long and happy life.

In a nutshell, it would be a society which is stable and sustainable.

And if regeneration isn’t about achieving socio-economic stability and environmental sustainability, I don’t know what is.

Regeneration is more than the sum of its parts
I believe firmly that the task of today’s regeneration practitioners is to work themselves out of a job. We need to believe at a very deep level that ‘regeneration’ is not the same as ‘construction’, or ‘remediation’, or even as ‘planning’.

Critical though these callings are, real regeneration is much more than that.

After 30 years of regeneration in Britain, we should now be seeking very actively to reinvent ourselves as ‘sustainability practitioners’, as professionals who work to maintain an equitable, healthy and safe environment for everyone.

This reinvention of ourselves would require massive changes in the way we work, in our collaborations across disciplinary boundaries, and in our perceptions of how fellow citizens who are not exactly like ourselves experience their lives.

We can’t do that if we don’t understand how to achieve inclusivity, and why it matters.

But there is a very long way to go.

What is BURA doing about itself?
* Firstly, we have undertaken a thorough audit of our own organisation.

* We have looked at the gender and ethnicity of all members of staff and the Board, going back for three years, and for staff we have correlated this with salary bands. We shall report these findings to the Board when it next meets, and post a summary of this information thereafter on our website.

* We will also decide as a Board, in consultation with, we hope, our new Chief Executive, how much more data it might or might not be appropriate to record about the Board and staff.

* And we shall consult too on whether and, if so, how we need to look at the ‘inclusion’ characteristics of all BURA members.

* We would hope at the same time to start research on these characteristics as they apply to the regeneration sector as a whole, and to see how this compares with the data for the British population overall.

What is BURA doing to support progress in regeneration overall?
* Importantly, we are not seeking to compete with anyone; we are offering a supportive network which encompasses the whole spectrum of interests - inclusive, not competitive, with the sole aim of moving this positive agenda forward.

* Also, we recognise that no-one as yet has all the answers; we are simply trying, with everyone else, to identify both the challenges and the opportunities.

* We are launching today a Regeneration Equality and Diversity Framework, an ‘umbrella’ group welcoming people and organisations from every part of regeneration, ‘professional’ to ‘community’, to address a wide range of issues around equality and diversity.
This group will not seek to undertake work already done by others, but will help to link together the inclusion themes which regeneration good practice must address.

Some examples of what the BURA E&D Framework seeks to achieve
* We will support the exchange of information and views about what are the most immediate challenges for Equality and Diversity in regeneration in the UK.

* We will seek to collaborate with government at local and national level, and with research bodies already examining aspects of Equality and Diversity.

* We will develop the BURA website as a free open-access resource, available to all, hosting weblinks to legal and professional aspects of regeneration practice – including equality and legal audits – and enabling wider discussion between BURA members and partners.

* We will offer practical help and support to people from different communities who wish to become involved in regeneration – perhaps for instance by offering bursaries and work placements – in a collaboration between BURA and our members and corporate partners.

* But most of all, we will seek to work with all of you to make the BURA Regeneration Equality and Diversity Framework not just a talking shop, but a vibrant and positive reality.

In for the duration
* This is however slow-burn. We're asking the questions but we don't as yet have many of the answers; everyone here today can help.

* The BURA Board are unanimous that we must work hard to make our Equality and Diversity Framework a reality, not just an ambition.

We very much hope that you will want to be part of this reality.


Contact Hilary at BURA

Women listening 121x102 4459aa.jpg Just 90 years ago on this date was the first time any woman in the UK was 'allowed' to vote. Some people still alive now were born when women's emancipation did not exist; and even in 1918 the Representation of the People Act permitted only specified women over 30 this privilege. It was to be another ten years before women gained equal voting rights with men.

From the time of the Representation of the People Act of 6 February 1918 until the Equal Franchise Act of 2 July 1928, despite this and other first and desperately hard-fought victories, democratic voting rights were still not equal between men and women.

But that was by no means the end of the fight for formal equality. It was, extraordinarily, not until 30 April 1958 - a date still easily within the memory of many people - that the Life Peerages Act enabled just four women gained entry to the House of Lords.

Not there yet
So progress has indeed been made towards women's equality in the past century. No longer are women paid less in, or indeed debarred if they marry from, professions like teaching; no longer does the law formally and overtly permit differences in the way women and men stand before it.

But still much remains to be done. As Katherine Rake, Director of the Fawcett Society, says in her Guardian interview this week:
We have done as much as we can levering women into a system designed by men for men. Now we have to work for a society where the rules are fitted for everybody.... There has been a huge change in women's lives, but very little in men's. [To make further progress] we have got to look at what happens in men's lives.....

Even now, these battles continue, worldwide....

Unapologetically feminist
So I make no apology for being a long-time committed feminist. Half a century after women's first step towards full emancipation, the feminist agenda of 1968 was a turning point as I entered adulthood. But the year 2008 still sees a long road ahead.

In my lifetime much has changed; but not enough.

Whilst, for example, the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act brought about a fairer situation for women requiring maternity leave (and , thereby, their partners and families) - though it was too late for some of my friends and me.

Still unequal in work and in power
But gender equality in the workplace is even now nowhere near achieved. British women in full time work are still paid on average 17% less than men similarly employed; and when part-time the difference between men and women is 36%.

And in national politics, where the big decisions are made, women remain even now a minority. The 2005 General Election saw 128 women elected in an assembly of 644, most of them - as Theresa May, a leading Conservative, herself acknowledged, from the Labour Party. (As at the end of 2006, of 712 Lords, 139 were women.)

Gender fatigue there may well be; but this is no time for inaction.

A way to shape the future
There remain enormous gaps, for both men and women, in parts of our lives which, whatever the legal frameworks, still have to be addressed. Men and women remain unequal, for each of them in different ways. (And so as we know do people of different sexualities, of different colour or age, of different beliefs and with different abilities.)

You don't, actually, need to be a woman to want to seek equality, to hold that feminism is a sensible and decent way to see the world. You just have to be a fair-minded person.

Read more about Gender & Women.

Science Museum Valencia 06.08 132 (115x122).jpg 'The next president of the United States of America will control a $150 billion annual research budget, 200,000 scientists, and 38 major research institutions and all their related labs. This president will shape human endeavors in space, bioethics debates, and the energy landscape of the 21st century.' So says Chris Mooney in his seriously impressive review of the options - options in reality about human beings, not 'just' about knowledge - awaiting electors of the next President of the USA.

Chris Mooney, in his recent Seed Magazine blog piece entitled Dr President, examines the options for American science and suggests what needs to happen now.

America's relationship with reality
During the past seven years of the Bush administration, Mooney tells us, America has been subject to 'what can only be called antiscientific governance'. Scientists, he says, have been 'ignored, threatened, suppressed, and censored across agencies, across areas of expertise, and across issues...

'Under George W. Bush—the man who pronounced climate science "incomplete," who misled the nation in his first major address about the availability of embryonic stem cells for research, who claimed that Iraq was collaborating with Al Qaida—America's relationship with reality itself has reached a nadir.'

What's next?
Chris Mooney is right. The status of science is in crisis, at least as far as States-side politics is concerned - and also in terms of what people in many parts of the world, even many sophisticated knowledge economy parts, understand about what science is and does.

'To better grapple with emerging science controversies', Mooney proposes that the in-coming president 'reconstitute something akin to Eisenhower's President's Science Advisory Committee, but with a strong emphasis on forecasting the looming problems of tomorrow. ...The conversations wouldn't shy away from controversial or speculative topics. They would be designed, at least in part, to spark discussion in the media, on the Sunday-morning talk shows, and also at the kitchen table.'

Engagement beyond the science
This paper on antiscience, and its resolution through widespread debate and respect for scrutiny of the evidence base, offers many rich seams for us all to explore. But I think it also offers a new perspective on what I might call the 'Post-Science Century' which is before us.

The term 'post-science' means much more to me than simply the arid 'total value' anaylsis deriving from Milton Friedman et al. Instead, it focuses attention on the socio-political impacts and synergies of science and technology (one of a multitude of examples might be IT and the developing world) rather than on measures of money.

No longer can it be said that 'knowing the science' is enough - and Mooney is clear on this. We need to understand the future of climatalogical, environmental, genomic, military and many other applications of developing knowledge.

From tested knowledge to the human condition
In seeking to grasp what all these enormous issues, with their huge budgets, mean for each of us, we move from formal and tested knowledge to insights concerning the nature of human experience.

Perhaps it's an irony of the twentyfirst century that the human condition itself will force us to think about science, rather than any new-found urge to look dispassionately at evidence bases and how to test them. This is what should drive the Science Advisory Council of the next President of the USA.

It's not what we know, but why we all need to know it, that will spur this critical agenda.

Recent Entries

No Top-Level Diversity Leaves Liverpool's Leadership Lacking
For everyone to flouish, civic direction must draw on the life experience of us all. Sadly however this is a…
Politicians Work For You ~ The Evidence
Perhaps the idea that 'politics is irrelevant' is actually a ploy, consciously or not, for people to avoid the difficult…
Policy-Related Scientific Research In Context
Avian influenza has provoked quite a debate in The Guardian about how science and politics inter-relate. Recent contributors to this…