What Women Want 2.0

When a good friend sent me an email this summer about a campaign she was involved in, I had no hesitation in asking a selection of women neighbours, family and friends to take part in it, to support it as much as I could.  I’ve re-printed the text of the email, to provide some background, as well as a few of the photos I have collected, as the campaign comes to fruition today.


“What do you want?  That’s the question women were asked twenty years ago as part of a campaign called What Women Want.  It was supported by Anita Roddick founder of the Body Shop as a way of giving British women a voice at the United Nations World Conference on Women in September 1995.  The idea was simple: to invite women to complete a postcard answering the simple question ‘What do you want?


Mary (my Mum) #WhatWomenWant20

“Twenty years on, there is still a desperate need to understand the answer to this question so we are repeating the survey.  The What Women Want campaign reboot is WWW2.0, and it is inviting women to engage in and create what could be the world’s most powerful conversation to make change happen.  Our goal is as it was before: to enable women to say what matters most to them and use their collective voices to effect the change they say they want – for themselves, their families and communities and for society as a whole.”


Ruby (neighbour) #WhatWomenWant20

The response in 1995 was overwhelming.  Replies came from all of the UK and from all parts of society with more than 10,000 women taking part, making it the biggest ever survey of British women.

Brenda (aunt) #WhatWomenWant20

Brenda (aunt) #WhatWomenWant20

“We hope you will participate in this exciting conversation with us and thousands of others to find out what women want in 2016 – 20 years on from the original survey. Are the concerns and challenges and goals different now? Help us find out and please tell us what you want.”

Olivia (my niece) #WhatWomenWant20 #herecomethegirls

Olivia (my niece) #WhatWomenWant20 #herecomethegirls

You can take part in one or all three of the simple ways below:

1. To answer the question ‘What do you Want?’ go to http://www.thisiswhatwomenwant.org/

Carol's is specific and heartfelt #WhatWomenWant20

Carol’s is specific and heartfelt #WhatWomenWant20

2. Take a picture of yourself with the answer to the question on the downloadable postcard and post it on social media using the #whatwomenwant20

3. Join in the conversation on social media on September 5th and get as many people to answer the question in your personal and digital networks as you can. The more answers the better. If there is someone in particular you admire and are interested to know their response, then tweet them the link to the question and ask them to respond.

The 5th September is the day Parliament returns after the summer break. What better time to tell politicians ‘what women want’ than ahead of their conference season. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get Theresa May to tell us what she wants? Tweet her the link @theresa_may

To find out more about the campaign please see http://www.thisiswhatwomenwant.org/

You can also see the campaign on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram:





Tickets please!

Last Friday, I hurriedly submitted written evidence to an inquiry which had been launched by the Transport Select Committee on the Bus Services Bill.  I’d only discovered the day before that it was taking place, and the deadline was that day.


I can think of better ways to spend my summer, but buses are an important part of civic life to me.  They have been woefully neglected as part of the fabric of society outside London.  If, like me, you can’t drive (I had to surrender my licence because of my neurological condition Chiari Malformation), you can come to rely on buses pretty heavily.  Which means that if the service is pretty woeful, you are stuck.

I’m not going to bore you here about the contents of my submission.  Suffice to say, there is something wrong with our democracy if we have allowed our buses to get into the position they are, and if the piece of legislation going through our Parliament right now misses a lot of the central points that it should be dealing with on the matter.


Even more of a failure is the fact that the Transport Select Committee’s Inquiry has been launched AFTER it can have any real impact on the nature or content of the legislation – a bit of a waste of time.

I’ve done a written submission nonetheless – I doubt many other people have, given they probably hadn’t heard of it, and if they had, the precise guidance for submitting such written submissions probably put them off.  We must find ways of making these inquiries and consultations more user-friendly.  There are pressure groups campaigning on the issue, such as the Campaign for Better Transport’s Save Our Buses, and We Own It, specifically raising the issue that local authorities should be able to own and run their own services, but they must find it difficult too.

Me and some of the gang on one of the local bus services which connects our village to a nearby Sainsburys superstore.

Me and some of the gang on one of the local bus services which connects our village to a nearby Sainsburys superstore.

The issue is important, but probably more important is the quality of our politics right now.  First, we need to do something about the quality of our opposition parties – I’m in despair.  Second, the House of Lords – for me, an issue like this demonstrates the need for a set-up in the shape of a Sortition – another elected chamber just wont cut it.  A chamber drawn at random from people on the electoral roll, in the same way as jury service would ensure we have a chamber that considers issues like bus services deliberatively – and might ensure that those considering the issue might even use buses regularly!


Tomorrow (15th July) is the deadline for the return of ballot papers in the election of a new leader of the Liberal Democrats, and by Thursday 16th July, we will know whether the verdict of the membership is Tim Farron, or Norman Lamb.

Tim Farron MP with my old boss, Sir Simon Hughes MP, who is backing him for the leadership of the Lib Dems

Tim Farron MP with my old boss, Sir Simon Hughes MP, who is backing him for the leadership of the Lib Dems

I left the party more than a few years ago now, but it was in my blood for many years.  It felt like family.  I joined the party at the tender age of 17, and was a contemporary of Tim Farron.  It was clear back then that he was a future leader, and if I was still a member today, I would cast my vote without hesitation for him.  I worked on many of his campaigns when he was a stalwart of the National Union of Students, and served with him on the executive of the party’s student wing.  He is a campaigner without equal in the social liberal tradition, and can help get the liberal cause back to a position where it is deserving of electoral support.  When he was on standing for the NUS Executive, I remember one of his favourite refrains was to accuse the then Labour leadership of being about as ‘radical as an episode of Terry and June’ which seemed to be on BBC One all the time back then.  Plus ca change!

"About as radical as an episode of Terry and June" Tim Farron on the then Labour student leadership

“About as radical as an episode of Terry and June” Tim Farron on the then Labour student leadership

But his job, if he is indeed successful, is a more profound one than I think many in the party are prepared for.  Two notes to help make my point.

The first is a contribution from a Guardian reader on 4th July, printed in preparation for the hustings events, and what they feel the next Lib Dem leader needs to do differently:

“Liberalism was and is naturally a movement of big ideas that were seen as unrealistic in the first place yet provided guidance for future reform.  In contrast, the Lib Dems appear to have failed to provide a big and and long-term vision since Paddy Ashdown stood down from the leadership.  So what is your big idea, contrasted against short-term soundbites from Labour/Tory party when it comes to the economy or fiscal policy?”

They hit the nail on the head.  The party needs once again to be the intellectual powerhouse, pulling the rest of the political landscape towards IT – not the other way round, by chasing the positioning of the other parties.

The second is a note I wrote to myself in the aftermath of the General Election result about what the Liberal Democrats would have to do to make them ever worthy of my vote again, let alone tempt me to consider joining them.  This is what I wrote:

“This election result was clearly a verdict on the party over the last five years.  The Party doesn’t just lose 2/3rds of its vote share, and more than 85% of its MPs because other parties have constructed a campaign of fear.  I have yet to hear the party accept that this is the democratic verdict of the people – instead it insists on sounding ‘hard done-by’.

“Perhaps the party could have conducted itself differently during those five years?  While the party feels it went into coalition in the national interest, maybe it could have achieved more by either securing control of whole ministries – or even by having a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement, where it could have maintained more of its identity through vetos, while still securing a stable economy.  This could have prevented the bedroom tax; NHS reorganisation, and tuition fees increases, for example.  Maybe the party needs to accept that there may have been other alternatives to the path it took.

“On tactics, why did the party play into the whole ‘fear’ thing by refusing to work with the SNP?  I thought the party were the ultimate pluralists, and surely the SNP would make more natural coalition partners than the Conservatives when it comes to policy?

The party shouldn't be aping the 'control' tactics of the main two parties. I NEVER want to see a photo opportunity like this again, except for comedy value. What on earth does it achieve? And even people who want 'Decency', 'Stability' or 'Unity' would rather have a 'Riot' in response to seeing these placards. Ultimate absurdity!

The party shouldn’t be aping the ‘control’ tactics of the main two parties. I NEVER want to see a photo opportunity like this again, except for comedy value. What on earth does it achieve? And even people who want ‘Decency’, ‘Stability’ or ‘Unity’ would rather have a ‘Riot’ in response to seeing these placards. Ultimate absurdity!

“In terms of the the future, I don’t want to see the Liberal Democrats trying to ape the ‘big two’ parties.  I want to see a party  that ‘gives a sh*t’ and wants to do something positive.  I want to see a party that demonstrates that we can mobilise and make common cause in a way that is more powerful than the sum of the individuals; intervening proactively where markets fail, and challenging some of the framing of debates that we take for granted – for example, on austerity, on social housing, and on nuclear deterence.

“The party should be about understanding and challenging concentrations of power, and coming up with people-centred solutions to problems.

“The party should be about a wider spread of opportunity, which has to mean a dispersal of unearned, inherited wealth.  The ‘Pupil Premium’ just isn’t enough.

“The party shouldn’t be about protecting its own backside (and we have seen that far too often in the last parliament) – the party as a vehicle is only of any use for achieving these ideals if it brings more of us together to achieve these things in common.  People want to see things done differently.

“The party should be about championing an optimistic vision of society which allows each of us to explore who we are and what we can contribute to our community, not just take as much from it as we can.”

"The Liberal Alternative" - the booklet I was sent on signing up to the Liberal Party 'cause' in 1987.

“The Liberal Alternative” – the booklet I was sent on signing up to the Liberal Party ’cause’ in 1987.

If the new leader is to succeed, and if they are to recruit me back as a voter, or even a member (not that they even want me, or me the same), I think they have to build a ‘Liberal Cause‘ with a strong emotional pull, not a tick-list, number-crunched, business-as-usual ‘party’ in the traditional sense.  That is what I signed up to as a 17 year old when I joined the Liberal Party way back in 1987.  It’s what I thought I was ultimately building towards whenI became National Secretary of the Student Liberal Democrats in 1990, worked for Simon Hughes MP in 1993, and a party Press & Broadcasting Officer in 1996.  My home town of Yateley has been a Liberal stronghold ever since I was a child.  This year, it lost a district councillor, and kept the other by a single vote.  The party at large has lost a huge swathe of goodwill because it was seen as being silent from beginning to end in the face of the Coalition project taking shape, and for a democratic movement, this was not healthy.  The party movement needs to develop a voice of its own again, just as it did when I first joined in 1987.

That ’cause’ has to be about challenging power; privilege; pollution; and poverty and injustice – things it was perceived to have abandoned.  It must be positive, practical, progressive, and pluralist.  Far too often in government, it came across as too tribal for its own good, too preoccupied with collective responsibility with the Conservatives.

I wish the new leader every success – and hope for the party’s sake it is Tim Farron.

Will not forget today, or Charles in a hurry

I felt compelled to pen this on my Facebook page earlier today, so have decided to re-post it here.

“Been a bit (well, totally and utterly) floored since first hearing the news about the death of Charles Kennedy announced on the radio just after 6am. He had some rare political gifts, and took some positions that sprang from the same political home as mine, even though I considered myself on a different ‘wing’ when I was a member of the same party. I was lucky enough to work in close quarters to him for a few years in the 90s. He also battled with the same ‘demon’ as my Dad, which led to his early death three years ago, so the news has inevitably brought much reflecting. My heart goes out to those I know who have the honour of knowing him a whole lot better than I – his family and friends. A big ‘thank you’ Charles; may you rest in peace.”