Westminster – A Culture of Harassment and Abuse?

The issue of sexual harrassment in Westminster has been in the news this week – here’s a round up of some of the worst cases…

The trade minister, Mark Garnier admitted to having sent a secretary into a sex shop to buy two vibrators (one for his wife and one for a female worker in his constituency office) while he waited outside. It was, he insisted, just ‘good-humored high jinks’. He also admitted to having once called the same woman “sugar-tits” in a bar, but said it was part of an “amusing conversation” about Gavin and Stacey.

Former Cabinet minisiter Stephen Crabb admitted to having “sexted” a 19 year-old he had interviewed (and rejected) for a job.

A labour activist went public with allegations that Labour officials urged her not to report a rape. Bex Bailey sasy she was attacked at a Labour event in 2011, but was discouraged from going to the police.

At lease six Cabinet ministers were rumored to feature a spreadsheet of Tory MPs accused on sexual harassment and misconduct known as the ‘dirty dossier’. The allegations, which have not been verified, range from extramarital affairs to being “handsy in taxis”, and harassing researchers to paying for prostitutes. A Labour-affiliated organisation, Labour Too, has begun compiling similar complaints against MPs on the opposition benches.

Women at Westminister have created a WhatsApp group to warn each other about serial sex pests, while other shave started making off-the-recored allegations to the press. They said that one former Tory minister was famously not afe to share a lift with, and that he was once overheard asking his secretary come “come and feel the length of my dick”.

Stephen Rush, writing in the New Statesman, reminds us that many of these allegations are unproven, moreover, a lot of the behaviour described in the so-called ‘dirty dossier vary from serious harassment to strange yet consensual activities which do not constitute harassment, which muddies the waters about the whole affair.

Sources:

The Week.

Harvey Weinstein Scandal – A sign of ‘raised consciousness’ or just a decline in his personal power?

Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment has been headline news for over a week now, but what should we make of it?

Weinstein sex pest.jpg

Some very famous actresses, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Joli have come forward and accused Weinstein of sexual harassment (which he hasn’t denied, he’s only denied accusations of rape), and it seems that he’s been a prolific offender over the last three decades: The New York Times reported last week that the media mogul was a serial sex pest who had, before recent allegations came to light, reached at least eight legal settlements with women over the past three decades.

Rebecca Traister noted in the New York magazine that she witnessed Weinstein’s abusive behaviour first-hand in 2000, when she got into a row with him, and he proceeded to punch her boyfriend when he intervened, and yet, despite dozens of camera shots, the event never made the news, showing his enormous influence to shut down bad news at that time.

Writing in The Times, Hugo Rifkind, suggested that the eruption of the Harvey Weinstein scanadal is a symptom of a changing world and evolving attitudes.

However, maybe a more realistic interpretation of events comes from Lee Smith, writing in the Weekly Standard – he argues that this has nothing to do with ‘raised consciousness’. The reason this story has come out now is because Weinstein’s power is on the wane. Both his political support (he was a major democratic fundraiser) and the media model that protected him previously is collapsing: there was a time when his company, Miramax, used to buy the movie rights to every big story published in New York’s magazines. But the collapse of print advertising means few magazines can now pay for the kind of journalism that translates into screenplays, so they have no reason to keep him onside.

Evidence of Increasing Globalisation

Just a quick round up of some of the evidence/ news items I’ve stumbled across which suggest that globalisation is happening. It’s up to you to decide how valid, reliable and representative this evidence is. 

NB – this is also my first experiment with a long-term time-release system for posting ‘shorter’ news-items – I’m going to schedule this just ahead of the time I teach globalisation in the college year) 

According to The Week (July 2017) 7/10 British children have their first experience of foreign travel before the age of five, and by the age of eight, 1/10 of them own their own smart phone (which will connect them to global media flows).

By contrast, just 12% of over-50s had been abroad by the time they were five: on average, they were 14 when they first went abroad.

Stephen Hawking Against Neoliberalism!

Stephen Hawking this week accused the Conservative government of damaging the NHS by slashing funding, weakening the health service though privatization, demoralizing staff by curbing pay and cutting social care support.

Neoliberal policy harming health.jpg

Hawking blamed a raft of policies pursued since 2010 by the coalition and then the Conservatives for enfeebling the NHS and leaving it unable to cope with the demands being placed on it.

“The crisis in the NHS has been caused by political decisions,” he said. “The political decisions include underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay cap, the new contract imposed on the junior doctors and removal of the student nurses’ bursary.

Hawking also accused the Tories of ‘cherry picking evidence’ to back up their views that funding cuts were not damaging the NHS…

“When public figures abuse scientific argument, citing some studies but suppressing others, to justify policies that they want to implement for other reasons, it debases scientific culture…One consequence of this sort of behaviour is that it leads ordinary people not to trust science, at a time when scientific research and progress are more important than ever, given the challenges we face as a human race.”

Comments/ Application to Sociology

I thought the news item above was worth summarizing as it’s such a great example a critique of neoliberal social policy – Hawking basically picks up on all the three main aspects of neoliberal policy – deregulation, funding cuts and privatization.

The matter of ‘trust’ is also a very central concept in any sociology of the risk society – Hawking is saying that you can trust scientific research as long as you’re objective about it and take into account all of the data and (appropriately reviewed) studies on the topic in-hand – not enough people are saying this clearly enough, and I think it’s important as it’s a useful antidote to post-truth politics.

As to the credibility of science being undermined when politicians cherry-pick data, this is less likely to happen if more scientists like Hawking get involved in social policy discourse. I mean: who do you trust more: The health minister Jeremy Hunt telling you the NHS is doing great based on studies B, F, AND M, or someone like Hawking telling you that, yes studies B,F, and M tell suggest the NHS is doing OK, but if we also take into account studies A through Z, on balance the neoliberalism is screwing our public health services?

Sources 

The Guardian: Stephen Hawking blames Tory politicians for damaging NHS

 

Agenda Setting in The Mainstream News

Agenda-setting is where the media only ask a limited range of questions about a topic, thus limiting the number of perspectives or angles from which an issue is explored. It is a concept mainly associated with Marxism, and it is one of the main ways in which the media maintain ideological control according to Marxist analysis.

Examples of agenda setting:

Focussing on the violent aspects of a political protest, rather than the arguments behind why the protest is taking place

Charlie Brooker does a great job of analysing how this occurred during the G20 protests in London 2009 – the television crews DID NOT cover the political speeches that took place during the day, they just waited around until some violence did (finally, it was rare!) kick off later in the day, and then it was the violence that became headline news:

Focussing on the ‘drama of the London riots’ and the harms done to victims rather than on the reasons why people took part in the London riots.

I’ll admit, the London Riots were great entertainment, and if that’s all you wanted, the media did a great job of covering the burning and the looting, framing the event in terms of ‘lack of parental responsibility’, ‘moral decline’ and ‘feral youths’

However, the mainstream media didn’t do such a great job of covering the findings of the research which was published months later, which suggested  that the actual reasons the riots took place were, according to the rioters themselves: unfair treatment by the police, unemployment, government policies the shooting of Mark Duggan.

Focussing on why the economy is or isn’t growing, rather than asking whether or not economic growth is a good thing.

There is a daily media-focus on the economy and economic growth: most radio and T.V. news slots have a regular ‘business feature’ and economic growth is always framed as universally good.

However, what is never discussed is the fact that not everyone benefits equally from economic growth – the capitalist class with shares and investments benefit hugely, but the poor benefit almost not at all! America is an excellent example of this – the richest country on earth, but with huge inequalities, you have to ask whether economic growth is actually ‘good’.

The authors of the Spirit Level argue that if we want social progress in Britain  then inequality is now the biggest barrier to improving quality of life for most people, but this is rarely discussed in the media.

Marxists argue that news values and agenda setting work together to reinforce dominant, elite world views of society as normal and natural, and to marginalise alternative perspectives on society which may upset existing power structures.

Related Posts

 

News Values

News Values are general criteria such as ‘extraordinariness’, ‘negativity’ and ‘elite persons’ which journalists use to determine whether an event is newsworthy (‘worthy of inclusion in the news’).

The existence of news values is one of the reasons why many sociologists view the news as a social construction – in other words the news is not simply an unbiased reflection of the objectively most important events ‘out there’ in society; rather the news is the end result of selective processes through which gatekeepers such as owners, editors and journalists make choices about what events are important enough to be covered, and how they should be covered.

Spencer-Thomas (2008) defines News values as general guidelines or criteria that determine the worth of a news story and how much prominence it is given by newspapers or broadcast media. Brighton and Foy (2007) suggest that news values are ‘often intangible, informal, almost unconscious elements’. News values define what journalists, editors and broadcasters consider as newsworthy.

The best known list of news values was supplied by Galtung and Rouge (1970). They analysed international news across a group of newspapers in Norway in 1965 and identified a number of News Values shared by Norwegian journalists (1)

News Values

Galtung and Rouge did uncover more news values, the list below is just a selection of the most ‘dramatic’:

Extraordinariness – rare, unpredictable and surprising events have more newsworthiness than routine events.

Threshold – the ‘bigger’ the size of the event, the more likely it is to be reported.

News values London Riots
The London Riots were the largest act of mass criminality in a generation

 

Unambiguity – the simpler the event, the more likely it is to be reported.

Reference to elite persons – events surrounding the famous and the powerful are often seen as more newsworthy.

Reference to elite nations – events in nations perceived to be ‘culturally similar’ to the United Kingdom are more likely to reported on – for example, disasters in America are more likely to be reported on than disasters in African countries.

News Values September 11th
S11 – Would a similar disaster in Africa have dominated the U.K. headlines for so long?

Personalisation – if events can be personalised easily they are more likely to get into the news.

Negativity – bad news is regarded as more newsworthy than good news.

grenfell tower fire news values
Negative events are more likely to make the news

 

According to Galtung and Rouge, journalists use News-Values to select-out certain events as less newsworthy than others, and they thus act as gate-keepers – they quite literally shut out certain events, and let other events into the news-agenda, thus narrowing our window on the world.

There are some contemporary critiques of the concept of News Values, but I’ll come back to those later!

Sources

(1) Chapman 2106, Sociology for AQA A-Level, Collins.

 

Grenfell Tower – Profits before Safety?

This truly horrific, and avoidable tragedy seems to be a perfect illustration of the downsides of neoliberal policies – deregulation, cutting public services (such as social housing) and outsourcing to private companies are the three cornerstones of neoliberal economic policy – and the conflation of these three things together seem to be directly responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower.

Grenfell Tower neoliberalism
The official death toll for the Grenfell Tower is currently 79 people, although the actual number might be considerably higher.

NB – This isn’t just me saying this, below is an approximate quote by Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, in a speech given on 24th June:

‘The Grenfell Tower fire was a ‘direct consequence of Tory attitudes towards social housing… they think they are second class citizens, and thus they got second class fire safety standards. It is also a direct consequence of outsourcing and of deregulation” (video from The Independent).

Five things which suggest Kensington Council put profits before safety…

I’ve taken the  five pieces of evidence from a recent article in The Week : ‘The Grenfell Inferno: were profits put before safety’? (NB – as far as I can tell, this is only in the print copy of The Week, 24th June, Issue 1130).

One – The council ignored repeated warnings by Grenfell residents

Grenfell residents had repeatedly warned KCTMO that the building was unsafe:

  • rubbish blocking hallways was going uncollected
  • emergency lighting was inadequate
  • there was no fire escape (save the main stairs)
  • fire extinguishers weren’t being tested
  • repeated power surges had led to electrical appliances catching fire previously.
  • It was also claimed that on the night of the fire, the fire alarms failed.

The council’s response was to actually threaten one of those bringing up the issue of fire safety with legal action:

grenfell fire safety.png

Two – The council made a conscious choice to cut costs on social housing

The council had the money to make the Tower safe, but it chose not to spend it.

Amelia Gentlemen in The Guardian suggests that, in the context of the vast wealth in the borough, there is a strong suspicion that council officials ‘see social housing tenants, many of them immigrants, as a nuisance, occupying valuable land that could be sold off to developers at a vast profit’. 

Three – The council outsourced the recent refurbishment of Grenfell Tower to a firm called Rydon, which has a track record of putting profits before safety.

Rydon, which made a pre-tax profit of £14 million last year, won the contract over the councils ‘preferred contractor’ by undercutting them, despite the fact that another council, Sutton council, had recently cancelled a five year repairs contract with Rydon becaue its performance fell short of requirements.

Rydon Cladding.jpg

Rydon subcontracted out the Grenfell work to nine different companies, which raised ‘serious concerns about the quality of supervision and accountability’.

So it was Rydon that was the firm who would have agreed to install the non fire-proof cladding, rather than going for the fire-proof panels for an extra £5000.

Four – Deregulation has meant that landlords have managed to avoid acting on fire safety advice. 

Retrofitting sprinklers (which would have cost £200 000) was one of the recommendations made after a fire at Lakanal House in south London in 2009 killed nine people, but lawmakers decided not to make this mandatory – they left it up to landlords and councils to do so on a voluntary basis, and few did.

deregulation Grenfell
The Cabinet Office boasts how deregulation has reduced the rigor of fire safety inspections

Five – The incapable response by the council to the disaster

Despite an amazing voluntary response by the public, the ‘council was no where to be seen’ – even 24 hours after the fire, there was no centralised co-ordination from the council, no point of information about missing persons, and some residents were still sleeping rough 4 days later.

All of this suggests that the council see social housing tenants as second class citizens. 

Grenfell protests kensington.jpg

NB – the poor treatment is continuing several days later….According to The Guardian around 30 households were subsequently told by the council that they would have to move out their Holiday Inn accommodation because of previous bookings; some families have been asked to move several times.

The relevance of all of this to A-level sociology….

As I mentioned above, this tragedy can be used to illustrate downsides of neoliberal policies – deregulation, cutting public services (such as social housing) and outsourcing to private companies are the three cornerstones of neoliberal economic policy – and the conflation of these three things together seem to be directly responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower.

It’s also a useful reminder that poor people in rich (unequal) societies can be treated appallingly, suggesting that inequality is the main barrier to further social development in so called ‘developed’ countries like the United Kingdom.

I also think Bauman’s concept of ‘flawed consumers’ can be applied here – Bauman has long commented that capitalism produces ‘surplus people’ – those without the means to consume, and many of the Grenfell residents fit this category – and because they perform no useful function in a capitalist system (because they can’t buy that many things and keep profit flowing) these people are treated with contempt, as this case study clearly demonstrates.

As a final note, a harsh question I’d like people to consider is simply this – how many people in the U.K. genuinely believe that the state should guarantee a decent standard of housing for everyone, even if that means spending a few billion extra pounds at the national level, which in turn would mean an increasing in taxes?

Clearly the Kensington council leader, and probably most of the Tory party, think the state should provide no or minimal help to the poor in the form of social housing, that’s one of the main strands of neoliberal thought, but how many of those people cheering for Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury really believe the state should pay more towards social housing, especially if that means your council tax bill going up?

I have this uncomfortable feeling that while it’s easy to come together and hate the Tories, if you probed public opinion a little deeper, there probably wouldn’t be that much support for increased spending on social welfare, or that much commitment to giving serious thought about how to implement policies to make capitalism work better for the poor, let alone how to replace it with a post-capitalist order.

 

 

Why Did Labour Gain Seats in the 2017 General Election?

In the recent June 2017 General Election, Labour won more votes than it did in 2001, 2005, 2010 or 2015, proving almost all the forecasts and commentators wrong.According to this Guardian article there are three main reasons for this…

It motivated young people to get out and vote.

A lot’s been made of the historically high turnout by 18-24 year olds…. It looks like in key constituencies – from Harrow West to Canterbury (a seat that has been Conservative since 1918) – the youth vote was vital. Labour showed it cared about young people by promising to scrap tuition fees, an essential move to stop the marketisation of higher education, and it proposed a house-building programme that would mean many more could get on the property ladder.

This is in stark contrast to the two other major parties – the Lib Dems in 2010 under Nick Clegg lied to them, and the Conservatives have attacked them – cutting housing benefits for 18- to 21-year-olds, excluding under-25s from the minimum wage rise and slashing the education maintenance allowance. At this election, Theresa May offered nothing to young people in her manifesto. Their message was: put up with your lot. Under the Tories, young people have been taken for granted and sneered at as too lazy to vote.

The NUS reported a 72% turnout by young people, and there is a definite thread in the media attributing the swing towards Labour as down to this.

However, this is contested by Jack Sommors in this article who suggests that it was middle-aged people who swung the election result away from the Tories.

‘Lord Ashcroft’s final poll, which interviewed 14,000 people from Wednesday to Friday last week, found people aged 35 to 44 swung to Labour – 50% voted for them while just 30% voted for the Tories. This is compared to 36% of them voting Labour and 26% backing the Tories just two years ago’.

A further two reasons which might explain the swing, let’s say among the younger half of the voting population, rather than just the very youngest are:

Labour offered localised politics, not a marketing approach

Labour rejected the marketing approach to politics in favour of a strong, localised grassroots campaign… this was not simply an election May lost; it was one in which Corbyn’s Labour triumphed. Labour proposed collectivism over individualism and a politics that people could be part of.

Labour offered a genuine alternative to neoliberalism…

Labour offered a positive agenda to an electorate that’s been told its only choice is to swallow the bitter pill of neoliberalism – offering a decisive alternative to Tory austerity in the shape of a manifesto packed with policies directly challenging what has become the economic status quo in the UK. Labour no longer accepted the Tory agenda of cuts (a form of economics long ago abandoned in the US and across Europe): it offered investment in public services, pledged not to raise taxes for 95% of the population, talked about a shift to a more peaceful foreign policy, promised to take our rail, water and energy industries out of shareholders’ hands and rebalance power in the UK.

So how is this relevant to A-level Sociology…?

  • In terms of values…It seems to show a widespread rejection of neoliberal ideas among the youth, and possibly evidence that neoliberal policies really have damaged most people’s young people’s (and working class people’s) life chances, and this result is a rejection of this.
  • In terms of the media… It’s a reminder that the mainstream media doesn’t reflect public opinion accurately- just a thin sliver of the right wing elite. It also suggests that the mainstream media is losing its power to shape public opinion and behavior, given the negative portrayals of Corbyn in the mainstream. .

Value-Freedom and explaining election results…

The above article is written with a clearly left-leaning bias. Students may like to reflect on whether it’s actually possible to explain the dramatic voter swing towards Labour objectively, and how you might go about getting valid and representative data on why people voted like they did, given that there are so many possible variables feeding into the outcome of this election?!

Sources

Young people voted because labour didn’t sneer at them. It’s that simple

General Election 2017: Young turn out ‘remarkable’

Sociology in the News: Parental Choice Versus State Control

The supreme court this week upheld the ban on parents taking their children out of school for family holidays during term time.

The decision upheld a fine imposed on Jon Platt by the Ilse of White Council for taking his daughter out of school for an unauthorised seven-day break in April 2015.

Regulations introduced in 2013 curtailed the ability of headteachers at state schools in England to grant up to two weeks’ term-time holiday for pupils with good attendance, but they can still grant authorised absences.

The standard penalty for an unauthorised absence is £60.

Arguments for restricting parents’ freedom to take their children out of school

Firstly it’s unfair on parents who stick to the rules…

Delivering the judgment, Lady Hale, said: “Unauthorised absences have a disruptive effect, not only on the education of the individual child but also on the work of other pupils…. if one pupil can be taken out whenever it suits the parent, then so can others … Any educational system expects people to keep the rules. Not to do so is unfair to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the costs or inconvenience to themselves.”

Secondly, it’s unfair on teachers who are under pressure to deliver results…

Ultimately teachers will have to carry of the burden of ‘catching up’ the students who have missed lessons.

Arguments against restricting parents’ freedom to take their kids out of school

Firstly – it takes power away from parents…

Jon Plat argues that it’s wrong for the state to take the power to make decisions affecting child welfare away from parents.

Secondly, it’s unfair on the poorest sections of society…

For those on a low income, the fact that they won’t be able to save £300 (or thereabouts) by going away in the second compared to the third week of July,  will make the difference between going on holiday or not.

There’s also the fact that this will be ineffective against thick-skinned, economically rational parents – basically the £60 fine is considerably less than the money a family will save going on holiday a week early in summer, before the proper summer holidays start.

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

This case also demonstrates the tension between ‘strong state control’ and individual freedom in New Right thinking on education – it’s something of a contradiction allowing parental choice of schools and then disallowing them this choice.

Marxists might point to the fact that this is really a case of disallowing the poor a choice – the rich who go to private schools or home educate their kids, or who simply have the cultural capital balls to not pay the paltry £60 fine and not worry about it, they can still go on holiday on the 14th of July.

Actuarial risk management’ has probably also got something to do with the government’s support for this – no doubt the aggregate (average) statistics  tell us there is a correlation between attendance and achievement and so this here is just being applied to everyone, without discrimination.

This case study is also relevant to the sociology of the family. 

 

Sociology in the News

This seems to be a clear-cut (and very unfortunate) example of overt discrimination on the basis of religion:

juhel-miah-discrimination
Juel Miah – A victim of U.S. discrimination

On 16th February, Juhel Miah, a respected British Muslim schoolteacher travelling as part of a school trip to New York was denied entry to the United States.

He was travelling from Wales with a group of children and other teachers and was removed from the plane while on a stop-over in Reykjavik, Iceland, despite having all the necessary documentation including a valid Visa for entry into the U.S.

The articles don’t state as much, but I’m assuming that all other non-Muslim adults on the plane weren’t escorted off.

Juhel has asked the American Embassy for an explanation of why he was refused entry to the U.S, but one week on and they haven’t responded.

This seems to be an unambiguous (but bleak), real-life example to illustrate what discrimination is – in this case differential treatment on the basis of someone’s religion. It could also be used to illustrate the extent to which Islamophobia is driving U.S. immigration policy.

Source – The Guardian, Monday 20th February.

You might also like The Independent’s version