Wednesday, 22 July 2015

On asking 'Why?' - and making room for new voices

One of my first jobs was as a financial journalist. I wrote about the stock market and why the shares listed on it rose and fell.

Every morning I called traders and analysts, asking them what might impact trading that day. I wrote down their answers, constructed a story, and filed it – usually the first of several daily reports.

I spent the first six weeks with no idea what I was writing about. It wasn’t just that I didn’t really understand this world, but that every question I asked seemed to bring an answer I understood even less.

I became very good at writing in code. There’s a certain vocabulary that goes with financial journalism, and I learned it fast. So some of it was a little … opaque. But that was fine. Nobody guessed.

But I was embarrassed. And I hated feeling that there was a lot more going on than I knew.

So eventually, after one of my sources had given me a particularly mysterious answer, I asked: “Why?” There was a long pause on the line while he thought. And then he laughed, and said: “I don’t know. Because that’s the way it is.”

So I asked “why?” again. And we started to really talk.

My reports got a lot more interesting. I discovered more news, made more contacts. I kept asking why, and before long it became a habit.

‘Why’ is never an entirely easy question to ask. It can irritate people. It can put people on the spot. It can draw hostile responses from folk, who prefer to paint the questioner as a fool.

As a journalist, I got used to that. Irritating people is an occupational hazard when your work involves asking ‘why’.

As a voter, however, I am fed up with it. As a voter, it seems to me that I have every right to ask ‘why’ and expect a non-irritated answer. But every time I ask ‘why’ I feel as though I am interrupting a conversation the outcome of which has long been decided without me.

Here are some of the ‘why’s I haven’t had answers to:

Why have the issues that matter to me mostly been relegated to a couple of pages at the back of each party’s manifesto?

Why do the main political parties treat me as though I am a member of a special interest group instead of someone who represents half the population?

Why, throughout March, April and May this year did the harassed canvassers that came regularly to my door seem uninterested in asking me any questions, let alone answering mine, and more concerned about ticking boxes on their clipboards? (Actually, there was one question they asked. It was “Is your husband in?”)

I came to the conclusion, in my twenties, that the financial system was just a machine and that however people wrung their hands and bemoaned its impersonality it would just keep crunching away, producing and digesting debt, shares and currencies like so many strings of meaningless numbers, unfazed by any human intervention.

Now I think that’s actually a better description of the current political system. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to just be something that gets digested every four or five years.

So I’ve decided to change the political system.

I know! Isn’t it great?

It’s not just me, of course. There are a whole lot of us. We are a grassroots movement, in fact, in towns and cities around Scotland, England and Wales.

We’re called the Women’s Equality Party, and we’re on a fantastic political adventure with a serious goal: We’re going to put equality for everyone back on the agenda and shine a spotlight on what needs to be fixed - fast.

We’re working with everyone in our branches to write practical policies for real change. We will unveil those policies in the autumn and then campaign hard to bring them about. Come spring we will field candidates against the other political parties and show that we are a real electoral force to be reckoned with.

You don’t have to give up your current political allegiances to join us. You just have to believe that equality is better for everyone. We welcome people from right across the political spectrum who want to work with us to achieve the following goals:

·      Equal representation in politics, business, industry and right across working life so that women’s voices are heard at the same volume as men’s
·      Equal pay and an equal opportunity to thrive
·      An end to violence against women
·      Equal parenting and caregiving and shared responsibilities at home to give everyone equal opportunities at home and in the work place
·      Equal education – a system that creates opportunities for all children and an understanding of what that matters
·      Equal representation by and in the media

We won’t have policies on other issues. We are going to concentrate, laser-like, on all of the above in order to make them happen. Our candidates, who will be required to sign up to those objectives, will not be bound by a party line on anything else. So in addition to shouting about our objectives they will be able to give voice to their own opinions on other matters – bringing a new richness and diversity to politics as more ordinary people make their voices heard.

This post may look like a very different one to the kind of thing I generally write. But it’s not. Not really. Because the work I’ve been doing since my daughter was diagnosed with autism five years ago is what’s brought me to the place I find myself now.

You don’t have to put up with what’s not working, you see. You don’t have to subside if you ask why and the response that comes is not satisfactory. You don’t have to put up with indifference, and a refusal to make room for new voices.

When change happens, it happens from the outside. So all of you who feel like you’re on the outside – come with me. It’ll be fun, I promise.

The Women’s Equality Party is a new non-partisan force in British politics uniting people of diverse ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, beliefs and experiences in the shared determination to see women enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men so that all can flourish. To find out more about us, click here.