About Kirsty McNeill

Kirsty McNeill is Save the Children's Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns. She was a Downing Street adviser for three years. She has written on politics, campaigning and international affairs for outlets including The Telegraph, Observer and New Statesman and is on the boards of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. You can see more of her writing at www.kirstymcneill.com.

A history of campaigning for the welfare state

A guest blog by Rebecca Falcon (@RFalcon_) on a talk given by Roger Harding (@roger_harding) as part of the #changehistory series. You can listen to all the previous talks here and read previous blog summaries of them by clicking on the #changehistory tag at the bottom of this blog. 

As a single mum, Sarah has to juggle three jobs at once to provide for her son, but her low wages mean that if it weren’t for housing benefit she could still end up homeless. Down her street, Brian has had a hip replacement on the NHS and today his wife Beryl collected her pension from the post office next door.  Beryl noticed that her neighbour is home during the day again. She suspects he is cheating the system.

We all benefit from the welfare state, but holding on to taxpayer’s support for the system is no simple task. Support for benefits is only slightly higher among people who receive benefits than those who don’t, Shelter’s Roger Harding explains, and concerns about fraud and excessive taxpayer spending have been issues since Clement Attlee’s day when it all began.

In the latest History of Change talk on the Welfare State, Roger walked us through some of the lessons we can learn from the work by political parties, trade unions and issue groups to maintain the welfare state over the last seventy years.

He describes the longevity of the welfare state as a victory against the odds thanks to smart campaigning. These, he says, are the key lessons:

1) Big Change Doesn’t Happen overnight

Popular opinion may say that the NHS burst into life at the end of the Second World War, but in fact, it was the product of decades of campaigning by political parties and trade unions from the beginning of the 20th century.

2) This was a deal, not a gift

To win taxpayers’ support, and fund the welfare state, Clement Attlee introduced contributory National Insurance. Framing the welfare state as a project that we all pay into, based on responsibilities – not just rights or charity – helped to win over working and middle class voters.

3) Patriotism can unite people in common cause

Patriotism is a powerful driving force that can be used for good or bad. Campaigners for the welfare state tapped into post-war patriotism in the 1940s, selling the NHS and social housing as the best of Britain and a core pillar of our new post-war national identity.

4) Build solidarity across classes

Labour knew that working class voters alone couldn’t win general elections. By broadening the welfare state’s appeal to the middle classes, with some universal services and a contributory model, the project gained mass appeal.

5) With great [campaigning] power, comes great responsibility

Next was a warning to campaigners to learn from some of the single issue campaigns of the 1960s and 70s. The Child Poverty Action Group’s powerful criticisms of the disparity between rising wages and benefits played into the opposition’s hands. The opposition Conservatives used the pressure group’s evidence in a very political way in the next election. On the other hand, Harding spoke about CPAG’s success in the 1970’s to improve the child benefits system, by leaking minutes from a government meeting. The lesson is to be aware of your power and to use it responsibly.

6) Resistance works, if the cavalry is coming

In the 1980s, many councils refused to co-operate with Margaret Thatcher’s Right To Buy scheme. They believed that a subsequent Labour government would repeal her legislation. However, Thatcher’s continued success meant that in fact, by staunchly refusing to engage, they lost an opportunity to negotiate and improve the policy. Resistance can work, but you do need a chance of winning coming around the corner.

7) Responding to public concern can increase public concern

In the 1990s the government tried to build trust in the system with adverts warning benefits cheats that they were being watched. Although the action by the government did reduce levels of fraud, they didn’t receive credit for it as people thought fraud must have been widespread if the government were putting so much effort into advertising about it!

8) Don’t trash the brand

Criticising a government’s poor delivery of welfare policies can make people want to throw the towel in on the whole project. Nuance can be lost in the public sphere, so be careful about publicly criticising a system you ultimately support.

9) Learn from successes – contributarian and majoritarian

The NHS and pensions are amazing successes of the welfare state that we can learn from – both of which have record levels of funding today. Universal healthcare means there is no stigma associated with using the NHS, while the strong sense that pensions are contributarian has upheld public support (even though in reality pensions aren’t entirely contributory and actually the closest thing we have to a basic income).

10) Less ‘Saints vs Sinners’, more ‘Boringly Normal’

Studies show that painting people who will benefit as saints (for example focusing on pensioners and disabled children who receive benefits, who few people would object to the state supporting) can actually reduce public support for your cause. People think they are being misled if your policy sounds too good to be true. Better to describe those who will benefit as ‘boringly normal’, like the single mum who still needs housing benefit despite working as much as she can.

11) So many ideas to steal

Finally, we were reminded that the issues we face today are not new. We have a duty to look at the work of previous campaigners to understand what worked and what didn’t.

Some further reading suggestions

Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 – Tales of a New Jerusalem, Daniel Kynaston

The Five Giants – A Biography of the Welfare State, Nicolas Timmins

Citizen Clem – A biography of Attlee, John Bew 

Shelter’s analysis of current drivers of attitudes to welfare, Jenny Pennington

Historical analysis of support for welfare (second doc in this link), University of York for Shelter

•How to talk about inequality in a way that might actually fix it 

•A series of blogs on Shelter’s current campaigning pilots on welfare, Paul Donnelly and Tilly Williams

Scotland and our movement moment

This weekend was the inaugural Adam Smith Festival of Ideas in Kirkcaldy and I was asked to speak about how Scotland could change the world in the years ahead. This is what I said.

Our world needs movements – and movements need Scots

I want to tell you a story about who we are, where we’ve been, and where we could go. A story about the Scotland we could become – if we first understand who we are.

I came of age politically after the fall of the Berlin Wall and during the highpoint of a global order based on shared rules and human rights. From the Arms Trade Treaty to the responsibility to protect doctrine to the cancellation of third world debt, I got kind of used to the uninterrupted march of global justice.

And then the darkness descended.

Just take the last three years.

2015 was the year of the refugee, with global refugee figures reaching their highest point since World War Two.

2016 was the year of populism, with surging support for nativist political forces across the Western world.

2017 is set to be the year of famine, with more than 20 million people at risk of starvation across Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia in the worst crisis of its sort in more than three decades.

Something has gone very very wrong and I’m here today to ask you to join me in helping to put it right. My argument today is three fold.

Firstly, that this particular moment in history is a ‘movement moment’ – it demands of us a willingness to join movements in unprecedented numbers, because the problems cannot be fixed by politicians, public policy or public institutions alone.

Secondly, my argument is that Scots in particular have special responsibilities here, because we believe in cooperation not only in our communities and in our country, but across the world. And thirdly that Scots not only have a duty to be involved in global justice movements, but actually have a very distinctive contribution to make, by virtue of the quirks of our historical experience.

A movement moment

Let me begin by saying a bit more about where we are, and why I think this is a movement moment.

By day I work at Save the Children and each day I try to remind myself of the good we have done together. Since 1990, we have halved the number of children dying before their fifth birthday. Anybody who has ever suffered any form of bereavement knows that each loss is shattering, leaving a hole in a family that can never be filled. That we have halved the number of families experiencing the depths of that sorrow is a good reason to get up in the morning. And if you’ve ever given to an international charity like Save the Children, or happily pay your taxes and support that money being spent on aid, then these are your achievements and you can be very very proud.

But at the same time I cannot say, hand on heart, that I am optimistic about the way the world is moving. I despair every time we release a new report charting the catastrophic failure to protect the children of Syria. Last week we published a report in which a child said “when friends die my chest hurts and I can’t breathe so I sit alone because I don’t want to scream at anyone”. These are words that no child anywhere should say.

In the report before that parents in a besieged area of Syria told us what it was like to raise children in a town where all the doctors had fled or been killed. They had resorted to taking their little ones to the vet when they got sick.

All across the world, from Paris to Mosul, ordinary families are terrorised by extremists and a medieval barbarism is encouraging people to target and torture those who disagree.

Meanwhile here at home the mood has soured and something ugly and sinister is on the march. Jewish friends receive abuse from the swamps of history, Muslim friends report a surge in the most vulgar and blatant Islamophobia, while my friend Jo Cox was murdered doing her job.

Behind all these trends is the same basic story: frightened and frightening people are obsessing about what divides us. We have lost the art of seeing each person as precious and unique, as an irreplaceable and perfect version of themselves, without whom our world would be irrevocably impoverished.

None of these are problems which politicians, however honourable or gifted, can be expected to solve on their own. If we want a different kind of Scotland, Britain or world, we’re going to have to get involved.

For me movement thinking is exactly what we need now because we live in what I call a 3D world – a world characterised by distrust, division and disruption.

Distrust, of both the motivations and the competence of institutions. Division, between people of different backgrounds and opinions. And disruption, of old ways of thinking, doing and being. Those 3Ds all add up to people feeling overwhelmed and alone, and movements hold out the prospects of an answer.

A movement can be the answer to distrust – because movements are strengthened by their perceived authenticity. And it can be the answer to division, because by definition movements involve more than one person (there’s never been a movement of one). And it can be the answer to disruption, because movements are defined by being for change, but giving us the sense that we’re more in control of which change we choose.

This word movement gets bandied around a lot at the moment, so I want to be really clear about what I mean by it. To me a movement is not the same thing as an organisation. To me a movement is a tribe – a really, really big tribe, but a tribe nonetheless – which coalesces around a shared view of how the world could be and which commits not simply to taking one action but instead to a lifetime of service to an ideal.

My friend Alex Evans has just published a book in which he quotes an American organiser as saying ‘what makes a movement is simply enough people feeling part of it – sensing a shared culture, and forcing those watching to take note and take sides’.

That seems about right to me, because movements do force us to take sides, and decide where we stand on the big moral questions of the day. This isn’t a new thing – we’ve had movements for the abolition of slavery and for women’s suffrage and for civil rights. But just because we’re sympathetic to the most famous movements, we shouldn’t assume that movements are always the good guys. There’s a global far right movement too. And a global jihadi one.

So there’s nothing new about movement thinking, and nothing inherently honourable about it either. But my argument today is that there is nonetheless something about it which makes it uniquely well suited to the demands of the hour.

Scots as movement-builders

So why am I talking about this here in Scotland, and suggesting that Scots have a special obligation to fight hatreds which seem so much bigger than us, so big in fact that they could overwhelm the world? My answer is a simple one: Scots have a calling now, because we know better than anybody that none of us have to be put in boxes not of our choosing.

For three centuries we have been simultaneously Scottish and British and there are plenty of people who want to campaign for us to be Scottish and European. The fluidity of our identity is why we can talk of people being Scottish by birth, choice or aspiration – because we have long accepted that there’s nothing binary or closed about being a Scot.

And so my second argument today is that there is such a thing as Scottishness and that it leaves us well placed to be the movement builders that this movement moment demands of us.

The nature of Scottishness has obviously been a source of some controversy, so let me share a little about where I’m coming from.

Given the mesmerising range of choice – the grandeur of our Munros, the mysteries and histories of our lochs and the breathtaking beauty of our islands and our glens, it might surprise a visitor to Scotland to know that two of my favourite sights here are stones. They are both small, both plain and both can be seen within an hour of where we are now.

The first is the one bearing a circular inscription on the floor of the National Museum in Edinburgh, the one which says ‘Scotland to the world to Scotland’. The motto is chiseled in a circle so that, depending on how you look at it, it either says ‘Scotland to the world’ or ‘the world to Scotland’.

The second is embedded in the wall of St Giles’ Cathedral and says simply ‘Thank God for James Young Simpson’s discovery of chloroform anaesthesia in 1847’.

It seems to me that it is in these two small slabs – even more than in our poetry, plays, novels, songs or political speeches – you find the essence of the Scottish national character.

In the National Museum stone, you learn of our sense of Scotland the Good Samaritan, unwilling to pass by on the other side. There is much to be proud of here, from the disproportionate numbers of Scottish volunteers in the International Brigades to the phenomenal demonstration of people power on the eve of the 2005 Make Poverty History summit in Gleneagles. Whatever our views on the constitutional question, we can be proud that both nationalists and unionists, Yes and No supporters are united in their support for Scotland fulfilling our obligations to those beyond our borders who need our help.

In the St Giles’ Cathedral stone, you see a very Scottish combination of intense pride in our temporal talents, combined with a beautifully understated trust in providence, and a reminder not to get too cocky – it’s all very well being the most inventive people on the face of the earth, but don’t go thinking you did it on your own. The reason I love this stone so much is because it really encapsulates what I feel about my obligations as a campaigner – life isn’t about being ‘nice’, about having good intentions but not a real strategy for change. On the contrary – life is really about each of us straining to fulfil our potential so that the talents of each of us are used for the benefit of all of us. Our time on earth is supposed to be a succession of periods of hard thinking followed by periods of hard work.

We don’t have a Scots word or phrase that describes precisely this mix of social duty and determination to apply rigorous thinking to big problems, and the best I’ve come up with is ‘strategic service’.

I should say at this point that I don’t consider these national traits of ours an unalloyed good. The same overwhelming sense of obligation which can lead us to great acts of courage and self-sacrifice can tip all too readily in to an oppressive puritanism and self-righteousness. So I’m not suggesting here that Scots are superior to other peoples, just that we’re not entirely in the wrong when we ask ‘wha’s like us? Damn few’.

Movement thinking

So my second argument today is that to be a Scot is to have a particular take on the world, bound up in our sense of connectedness to other peoples and also in our obligation to give the best service it is in our power to give. It is for historians and anthropologists to tell us how we came to be this way, and for the philosophers to tell us if the downsides I have just described are a price worth paying for our gifts, but for our purposes today I hope we can take it as a starting point that there is something real about Scottishness, and our cultural distinctiveness is to be found somewhere in this area.

My third and final argument is that – if I am right, and our world needs movements and, if I am right that Scottishness is characterised both by its richness as a porous identity and by its internationalism and sense of strategic service, then Scots have a particular contribution to make to building movements in the years ahead.

Let me just say a little about what that would look like.

Firstly, great movements don’t buy great man theories of history. That doesn’t mean movements are leaderless – it means they are leaderful. Just think about Black Lives Matter, or the women’s marches on the inauguration weekend, or the refugees welcome movement. I don’t know who is in charge of any of these things, because nobody is in charge of these things. They are full of leaders, people who identify themselves through action.

And that brings me to my second point about movements. Movements are only as good as the activism they inspire and that should be our aim – providing inspiration, not giving orders. Brilliant movement builders rally people around a vision and then let people decide how they are going to contribute, creating the space for a whole range of creative tactics to emerge.

If we take a look at just the refugees welcome idea for a minute, it is clear that no one person could have come up with the range of activities people have done. Let me be clear here – I’m incredibly proud of Scotland’s response to the refugee crisis, just as I want to celebrate the contribution of communities across the UK. But I’m not naive – my point is not to suggest that everybody is welcoming or that Scots are inherently more progressive on these questions than folk down South.

But I do want to look at how people in Scotland were able to link up with a wider movement in a way that should make us all proud.

To take just two examples. How brilliant that ordinary folk from Glasgow set up Refuweegee, a charity which offers new arrivals to the city not just essentials like toiletries and nappies, but ‘letters fae the locals’ introducing what we love about our city and explaining treats like In Bru and Tunnocks Tea Cakes.

Or when Syrian families were first resettled in Bute, how amazing that locals went to speak to the church about giving a space for Friday prayers and to the local co-op about making sure they had halal meat for sale.

All of these things were just people finding different ways to contribute, the same way a QC in London decided to set up the billable hour campaign where he encouraged all his pals from chambers, and then all the solicitors they worked with, to each give what they would bill in an hour to Save the Children’s child refugee appeal. All at the same time as Belle and Sebastian decided to put on a gig for us, and Caitlin Moran organised a single, and a member of the public set up a petition which ended up forcing David Cameron to agree to take 20 thousand Syrian refugees, while another ordinary woman invited a few of her friends on Facebook to a protest and ended up leading a march of 10 thousand people through London.

There wasn’t a mastermind behind all of these things – but there was a movement, and the movement is delivering real change, right now.

And here’s the final point I want to leave you with, and it brings us full circle as to why we’re talking about this in Scotland. Being a movement builder means connecting with people on the very deepest level of their values and their identity. Something can have mass participation and still not be a movement – after all nobody says they are part of the movement for iphones, or converse shoes or AirBnB. These communities are all massive, but they are just organised around things we use, they don’t represent who we are.

Likewise even if we feel a very strong attachment to one political party or one charity, our loyalty to the movement of which it is part tends to run even deeper. Nobody has a twitter bio saying ‘supporter of the Fawcett Society’ – we say feminist. We don’t say ‘Hope not Hate donor’ – we say anti-fascist. And we don’t say ‘Amnesty member’, we say human rights defender.

And that, of course, is the same idea we started with. My experience of being Scottish – in part I am sure because it’s been an experience of being Scottish and British, not Scottish or British – has made me feel incredibly comfortable with the idea that I’m part of more than one community of action, of mutual obligation, and of identity.

Movement thinking is a new buzz phrase around the world, but it’s actually something Scots do instinctively, because whether we like it or not, duality is part of who we are. There will be plenty of people here – and there are certainly plenty of people among my own nearest and dearest – who want another referendum, and will use it as a chance to vote for independence.

It isn’t my place to pass judgement on that one way or another today. But I hope it is my place to ask you to weigh very carefully whether the rich, multi-layered nature of Scottish identity is something you value and, if it is, whether you’re prepared to put that special perspective to good use in this movement moment.

Over the course of this weekend and in the months and years to come the status of Scotland in the Union will no doubt continue to dominate. But if that is all we talk about I fear we are missing the chance to make our mark on questions of truly global and historical significance.

Scotland’s national question is a complex one, but my argument today is simple: our broken world needs movements, movements need Jock Tamson’s Bairns and they need us now.

Honouring Jo Cox by supporting women in politics

Jo Cox only used one qualifier when asked what kind of feminist she was.

“Massive”.

She believed in politics and the rightful role of women at the centre of power. She was forever pushing other women forward and was profoundly committed to supporting female candidates across the political spectrum. Inspired by her example and in her memory a few us hosted an event with Julia Gillard, designed to encourage women to consider a public life and give them the tools to change the world.

You can read Julia’s speech here and watch the whole event here:

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Before Julia spoke we heard from a range of amazing speakers about what they can offer women considering public life and what each of us can do. Suggestions ranged from getting involved in Campaign Bootcamp to amplifying the voices of other women (buying this book is a good place to start). There isn’t enough space here to do full justice to those speakers, so the most important practical step you can take is to watch and share the session as a whole. Then make a note in your diary, right now, to check in two months time how many of the things the speakers ask of you that you’ve done.

There is so much to be sad about in times like these, but much hope to be drawn from Julia Gillard’s message that power is not a dirty word and politics is not a dishonourable profession. Our Jo believed and embodied both those things and I hope this event helped set the next Jo Cox off on her journey. We must do all we can to support her on her way.

 

 

Slay it Loud and Slay it Proud: Lessons from the Fourth Wave

Guest post from Helen Elliot from Save the Children UK, on a talk by Maria Neophytou of the GREAT Initiative, as part of the #changehistory series of talks. You can listen to all the previous talks here.

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Last week a book that was the first of its kind was released, entitled “In Our Own Words: A Dictionary of Women’s Political Quotations”, edited by Nan Sloane (Centre for Women and Democracy). Why has it taken until nearly a century after women first got the vote in the UK for a collection of some of our most memorable voices to be recorded in one place? Many feminists would argue that one of the reasons is because, up until now, we have been learning about HIStory, a record of humanity written by and for men.

Maria Neophytou of The GREAT Initiative brought this argument with her when she came to speak to staff at Save the Children on International Women’s Day. Maria raised some challenging truths about what it means to be a feminist in today’s world, and offered us a different perspective on the development sector and the potential for feminism to reshape it into something new.

We Came to Slay

Change is hard, but that’s ok. Inspired by Beyoncé’s lyrics in her recent single “Formation”, where she uses “slay”, a term first coined within the African-American gay community that means to “succeed in, conquer or dominate something”, Maria argues that in order to change HIStory to reflect our experiences and our perspectives, we must become more comfortable disrupting the social order and to come in fighting unapologetically for our right to be remembered. (If you haven’t seen Beyoncé’s performance of Formation, you should!)

Who or what is it that we are disrupting?

Many of you will have already read and hopefully shared the article recently published by Grayson Perry about the “Default Man”. The overarching point he makes is that it is a group of white, middle-class, straight, usually middle-aged men that holds the power in our society but that their time in the driver’s seat is starting to run out. This group of Default Men sit comfortably within the Patriarchy (a system of oppression of men over women) which has influenced how we all think and feel in ways we may not even be cognisant of. But feminism offers space to reflect and unpack our thinking. It welcomes difference and wants us to move away from binaries of male and female, celebrating differences and allowing conflict of opinion to exist.

Waves – trough or crest?

Feminism is now in its fourth wave where people are connected by technology and social media plays a critical role in challenging everyday sexism, misogyny and gender binaries. We’ve seen a significant shift in public attitudes about what it means to be a feminist in even our lifetimes. Maria speaks of how there were no feminist societies when she was at secondary school in the 90s, or at university 20 years ago. Nowadays, teenage girls and young women (and boys and men) have superstars like Beyoncé blasting strong feminist messages into their earphones in a language that makes sense to them. Being a feminist is suddenly not only cool, but is expected of young people. Meetup groups exist for feminists in every city across the country and Emma Watson is the face of the HeforShe campaign.

Maria uses the fourth wave messages to raise questions about how we currently “do” development. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were designed by Default Men, but the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a product of a more global conversation and their framework takes a more feminist approach, she says. But what about the aid architectures we operate within? Is it time to revamp the paternalistic approach to giving where strict criteria are decided by the patriarchy? Do we need to clear some space for more partnerships to enable more open, honest and more meaningful collaborations and changes to occur? Food for thought!

And challenges remain in the fourth wave. Our children are up against a barrage of reinforcing messages about what it means to be a girl or a boy. Campaigns such as Pink Stinks and Let Toys be Toys are working to tackle the marketing industries to bring gender neutrality into products. Only 450 female MPs have been elected since 1918, while today there are 459 male MPs. Women still face harassment of various forms in their daily lives, which campaigns like Everyday Sexism is working tirelessly to change. And entire coalitions exist today to tackle violence against women despite there being a UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in place since 1993 and other incredible worldwide conventions and policies put in place for women’s protection (see the UN Women’s Timeline for a much needed uplift here).

The discussion is left wide open for debate but I’d argue that right now we might be falling down towards the trough of the fourth wave, making splashes and spraying salt water in the faces of the patriarchy. But, we’ll soon rise up, stronger in our diversity to form a powerful crest which will be the fifth wave of feminism. What will it look like? Equality, hopefully!

 

Lessons from the LGBT movement

Guest post from Vic Langer, Campaigns Director at Save the Children UK, on a talk by Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall, in the latest in Save the Children’s #changehistory series. You can listen to all the other talks in the series here.

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“It’s not about me, it’s about us”, this probably sounds like the sort of thing you imagine being uttered during relationship counselling; it is however the rallying cry to the UK LGBT community about what’s next in the journey toward LGBT equality issued by Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt.
It’s always good to have the opportunity to reflect on lessons from campaigning history and our lunchtime talk from Ruth Hunt to mark LGBT History month was no different. Rattling off a few key moments from history to demonstrate the long held societal anxiety around male sexuality Ruth sketched out for us the conditions under which Stonewall came to be, and what it was for.

Established in 1989 against the hostile backdrop of Section 28, an offensive piece of legislation designed to prevent the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, Ruth described Stonewall as an organisation focused on creating a pragmatic consensus in UK society. It was this consensus that saw the creation of “the good gay”, the presentable face of the gay male in the eyes of the mainstream. Quick to emphasise that for the large part this was a male movement, a white, elitist one at that, at one point she quips the lesbians were “off making the tea”.

So how did a these gay men achieve full legal equality in the UK? Through assimilation! These were clean cut, monogamous, home owning, employed men looking to get hitched, settle down and start a family. All they wanted was normalcy. The narrative was set; there was “nothing queer about being LGBT”.

I know from my own experiences of attempting to navigate the politics of the LGBT community that this approach isn’t without controversy. The impact on LGBT people of moving not against but into heteronormative discourse has been the subject of hours and hours of debate. Reflecting on whether assimilation was the right approach Ruth is clear – that’s something for history to decide.

A history that had her a few minutes earlier reeling off the wins secured over the last 20 years. Equal immigration rights, equal age of consent, the repeal of Section 28, civil partnerships, legislation to stop discrimination against LGBT people around goods and services, the list goes on. It’s an undeniable fact that through the assimilation approach full legal equality has been achieved, I guess the thing that history will decide is whether the cultural trade-offs were worth it? Did LGBT communities even want to assimilate?

One thing that is clear is that legal parity is a far cry from social acceptance, and so the struggle continues. Now Stonewall’s challenge is how to get their supporters to share their equality gains with others, hence Ruth’s mantra of “it’s not about me, it’s about us”. For her it’s time to diversify the public consensus from what it looks like to by gay, to what it looks like to by LGBT, to be black and lesbian, to be working class and trans.

Diversity was one of Ruth’s top tips for campaigners because different people resonate with different audiences and it’s her view that long term social change happens when you have consensus from the widest possible base.

A clear reminder to all of us campaigners and activists was the advice that no one cares as much as we do, we care more about the issues we campaign on than anyone else, and even then if we are honest there are moments in our day when it’s time for even us to switch off.

That brings us to clear communications – make the headline, keep your points crisp. Clear to highlight that this takes discipline she underlines that it’s our job to spell it out to our audiences in ways they both understand and have time for.

She’s also keen to emphasise that counterintuitive partnerships yield extraordinary results. Making the decision to work with Paddy Power was a risky endeavour for Stonewall, there were moments when they could have been just one tweet from catastrophe, but in the end the partnership was powerful because it reached a section of society that would have continued to be unreachable without such collaboration.

There are no apologies made by Ruth for Stonewall’s collaborative, mainstream, working with you – not against you approach. The organisation will never be on the outside shouting in, it lives firmly in the mainstream but that doesn’t mean a refusal to challenge the status quo. Ruth recognised throughout her talk that the future is about creating a wider movement for social equality, that there is much work to be done in society around race and gender. As she comes to a close she shares that she has to think a lot more about the decisions that she makes because she is a woman leading Stonewall – but sadly we were out of time so there is no getting further into that issue, which is a shame because I wanted to ask if the lesbians are still busy making the tea?

Lessons from global HIV / AIDS campaigning

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Guest post from Jack Wilson, campaigner at Save the Children, reflecting on a talk by Simon Wright, head of child survival policy, in the latest in Save the Children’s #changehistory series.  You can find out more about the series here and here.

‘I’d shoot my son if he had AIDS’ says Vicar.[1] 

We’re in 1980s Britain and what was initially termed Gay related immune deficiency is causing increasing alarm. As the first appellation suggests, fears over HIV and AIDS were strongly linked to homophobia. Indeed, with very little research being done into what was causing the spread of the disease, information was scarce, leading to a void which was readily exploited by other agendas. This discrimination expressed itself most controversially in people being sacked.

This set the scene for the first HIV/AIDS campaigning efforts. At first national, then global, campaigning for the response to HIV/AIDS has arguably been one of the most successful development movements in living memory. Below is a short summary of how the campaign developed over the past three decades.

Changing perceptions 

At this time, no treatments for HIV were available. Thus the initial response very much focused on prevention through information dissemination via networks and community groups, with the emphasis on educating about the risks. These early efforts were often led by gay activists who felt a need to respond to what they felt was just the latest in a series of discriminatory attacks on their communities.

By 1986, the UK government was finally beginning to take notice. Norman Fowler, then Secretary of State for Health, initiated efforts to mainstream the issue of HIV/AIDS. The message was clear: HIV affects everyone, gay or straight, get tested. Because of certain prevailing attitudes, Fowler understood it was important to dissociate HIV from gay men. This more rights-based approach that took shape in the late 1980s was aimed squarely at reducing harm.

Despite this obvious progress compared to the beginning of the decade, the mainstreaming of the issue into broader society would prove to be a double-edged sword. The message that HIV affects everyone had gotten out so well to the rest of society that efforts to directly target gay men, still by that stage the most affected, were dropped. From this time onwards, campaigning efforts became increasingly led by those living with HIV. Activists in the US in particular became renowned for their confrontational tactics at getting the issue of treatment access on the political agenda.

Going global 

The events in the 1980s and 1990s set the scene for what was to come next – the shift to a global campaign led by both international governments and NGOs. The perception that HIV/AIDS was now centrally a development issue was born out of the staggering data showing that in some countries 20%-25% of the entire adult population had HIV. Suddenly fears that the economically active sections of these societies could be wiped out forced the issue onto the international political agenda.

In 1996, UNAIDS was formed, recognising that HIV/AIDS needed a much more coordinated global response. In 2000, the UN Security Council held a meeting on HIV/AIDS, the first time it had discussed a non-conflict related issue. By 2003, the G7 had agreed to finance the Global Fund targeted at HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, while at the WHO Jim Kim was leading efforts to scale up treatments of the disease in poorer countries, along with prevention and care programmes.

By this stage over 40 million people worldwide were carrying HIV.

Switching targets 

With governments now taking notice, efforts in some countries switched to the companies refusing to lower the prices of anti-viral drugs. Most infamously, campaigners in South Africa successfully forced a number of pharmaceutical companies to drop a court case that aimed to prevent the government from licensing and importing cheaper generic HIV drugs.

The court case was a highly symbolic win for HIV activists and the campaign resonated around the world. AIDS was now a social justice issue. The wider reputational damage to the big pharma companies was substantial, the ripple effects of which are still being felt to this day. Ultimately, the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa proved immensely successful in bringing down the prices of anti-retrovirals. Much like their radical predecessors in the 1980s, South Africa was another example of the power of campaigns who found their energy from those personally affected by HIV.

The UK steps up

HIV campaigning had now come a long way. There was increasing optimism that the international community was getting its act together. Inspired by these campaigns, NGOs in the UK decided this could be a moment to push the UK government to focus on HIV treatment.

Cue the Stop AIDS Campaign and Make Poverty History. There are lessons on those at an earlier #changehistory talk here. Efforts led by ActionAid resulted in hundreds of thousands of signatures being collected on the issue of HIV treatment that were sent directly to No 10. This then gave the mandate for the UK government to push action on HIV/AIDS treatment for all as an outcome at that year’s G8.

Lessons learnt

From the early day educational campaigns up to the UK government’s  push in 2005, the main lesson I draw is that each step would not have been achieved without the one that came before it. For Simon Wright there are three main lessons learnt:

  1. Health must be about empowering communities to change things for themselves, not telling people what to do.
  2. Health is a right. Once this is agreed, you start to plan and act very differently. In the case of HIV/AIDS, it helped to further the perception of a gross sense of injustice. The vested interests can then challenged by those arguing for rights.
  3. Mobilising by people who were living with HIV proved immensely powerful but not something that has been easy to replicate.

[1] Quote from an article in the Sun from the early 1980s

Winning for Women

Guest post from Yvonne Jeffery, @bakingforpeace, campaigner at Save the Children, reflecting on the latest in Save the Children’s #changehistory series. You can read about and listen to earlier sessions here, here and here.

Like thousands of feminists across the country, I was eagerly anticipating the new film Suffragette, which charts a tumultuous period of feminism and the fight for equality in the UK in the very early twentieth century. After the screening, I was left asking myself two questions. What would I have had the guts to do in the position of these women in 1913? Secondly, and more importantly for today, can I say that I do enough to fight the inequality that still remains? In her talk on the history of The Women’s Movement, Nan Sloane (Director, Centre for Women and Democracy) argues that the period of pre-suffragette feminism was one of the most successful social movements ever, and yet we have lost this era and its learning from our history. She outlines five lessons.

Lesson 1: Campaigns should be unclouded and inclusive, in outcome if not in content. Campaign for all, not just some, women, spreading power to every class at every level.

Twentieth century suffrage campaigns ground to a halt partly due to the longstanding failure to achieve parliamentary enfranchisement. Under pressure, different factions appeared, and sought different levels of suffrage that would create a different outcomes and benefits for women and men. The movement lost clarity and unity.

For today, applying this test of clarity and inclusion to achieve change for women is still as important. For example, increasing the number of women in the courtroom, on business boards, and in parliament is only a means to an end; in themselves, these measures do not improve daily life for most women. Objectives must have actions that will translate into change on an everyday scale.

Lesson 2: Take help wherever you need or can get it.

The total number of female MPs elected since 1918 is 450. Today alone, there are 459 male MPs. In almost 100 years, as a country we have still not managed to elect the same number of women to parliament as we have men elected now.

Feminism needs men as men still hold power. Everyone must take on the fight for equality. One of the most recent campaigns to build an ambitious movement of 1 billion men worldwide to commit to taking action against gender discrimination is UN-Women’s HeForShe, which has so far gained only half a million pledges. Yet, it is only through the recognition that we all have a role to play that legislation to improve the lives of women will be enacted, and equality through social change achieved.

Lesson 3: Be opportunistic to seize the public imagination. Be constructive, imaginative, to ensure that people are talking about feminist issues, and in a way that gets them on to the agenda.

In 1867, the Second Reform Act extended the vote to all urban householders and people who owned small amounts of land in the country. Afterwards, a woman named Milly Maxwell managed to get her name on the electoral register. Lydia Becker, a leader of the suffrage campaign in Manchester, accompanied her to vote and they were ‘much cheered’ as they did so. Becker saw a campaigning opportunity, and ran a national campaign to get women to register to vote. As the rules stood, objections had to be made to remove people from the electoral register, but the rules were ambiguous, and barristers were forced to hear thousands of objections. Many women were removed from the register, but some barristers let women remain and be able to vote. This campaign helped to ensure that the franchise was slowly extended to some women at local levels, so that by the early twentieth century, Westminster was left as the only elected body where no women had any voting rights.

Today, you still need to be in the game to change the game. From women being classed as a non-person with no legal or financial identity and being expressly forbidden to vote in 1832, in 2015, the 18-24 female bracket is the least likely to vote. There is of course a lot of debate over how to get young females to vote, and efforts by political parties are to say the least unappealing, such as Labour’s pink bus or Ukip’s jump to promise to abolish the tampon tax and portray themselves as the party of young working women before the General Election this year. Communications and campaigns must show when, where, and how we all fit in to making equality a reality.

Lesson 4: See the whole game, not our own small part of it. See how our campaigns link to other struggles.

Empathy and understanding are powerful. Every campaigner needs to understand where the cause that they are fighting for sits in the context of the wider network of political and economic events. The votes for women campaigns are often viewed in isolation, without the recognition that they sprang from a longer campaign and sat alongside other campaigns for suffrage, and that other radical events such as the People’s Budget happened at the same time.

It is essential to recognise and understand the intersection of equality struggles, and to work together. Helen Pankhurst recently made this call at The Bechdel Test Fest discussion of Suffragette: ‘If each one of us took up an issue and held hands, we could achieve great change. We need less apathy!’

Lesson 5: Reclaim and remember our history.

Faye Ward, producer of the Suffragette film, has stated that ‘We are never taught history from the female perspective.’ In 12 years of primary and secondary education, the women’s movement never once appeared in my textbooks; I have only a single memory of my reception class teacher talking about Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes.

Recognising that our forebears did indeed change Britain profoundly, and that there are lessons that we can learn from them and apply today, would go some way towards reclaiming what has been lost and saluting the sacrifices that they made. The fight for equality still remains, and we can learn the lessons to make sure that we each do enough for it.