Why men must fail

It’s been a couple of weeks but I figured I’d post here the speech I delivered recently at the New Statesman debate at the Cambridge Literary Festival. The motion was ‘For more women to succeed more men must fail’ and I was speaking for the motion. (That’s NS deputy editor Helen Lewis in the chair in the pic). Here’s what I said:

“There is something richly ironic about a group of feminists – in which I include myself of course – having a debate. There is surely nothing more typical of toxic masculinity than a debate, a format invented by men because they couldn’t just sit about talking about stuff SOMEONE HAS TO WIN. Personally, I’ll only consider myself to have won this debate if you all abstain at the end and choose to mull the issues more deeply rather than vote.

However, we’re here and I’d like to look at two areas in particular that I know well, that sit at either end of the scale that runs between the public and domestic sphere and which I think demonstrate clearly that more men must fail if women are to succeed

Firstly, in the public sphere there is one place where it is quite clear cut that men must fail for women to succeed – the House of Commons.

There are only 650 seats, the vast majority represented by men.

This event is one of very many taking place across the country to mark 100 years since some women won the right to vote. Many suffragettes and suffragists – don’t forget the suffragists, factions and disagreements within the movement are nothing new – thought winning the vote would inevitably lead to further improvements and maybe even equality.

Now the former is undoubtedly true. The lot of British women has improved since suffrage was achieved. And that demonstrates why we need more women in parliament, because if women are present women’s needs will be considered. This isn’t just some airy fairy need to consider women’s issues, it’s life and death. While we had a female education secretary she drove a policy of compulsory and comprehensive Sex and Relationships Education. When Justine Greening was replaced by Damian Hinds one of his first moves was to go soft on SRE, confirming that parents will be allowed to take their kids out of classes if they wish. This despite a Women and Equalities Committee report that reported quality SRE ‘HAS THE POTENTIAL TO MAKE THE SINGLE BIGGEST IMPACT ON ALL FORMS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN THIS COUNTRY’

But we can only have more women in parliament if there are fewer men. There are only so many seats. For women to succeed in winning places in our law making body more men will have to fail to get elected.

The fact that equal suffrage has not brought about equal representation speaks to my second point which I’ll come on to shortly.

But it is rooted in the fact that we don’t actually want a parliament that is representative. If that was so we would want murderers and stupid people sitting as MPs. I would suggest that we want is a parliament that represents the best of us.

And still today women are not seen as the best of us.

We are trained from a very young age to look down on women, we create a female sphere to disdain it.

This is my second point, men must redefine what it means to fail because for too many men failure actually means being like a woman.

Big boys don’t cry – why? Because to show emotion is to be like a woman

‘Woman’s work’ is a derogatory term – because women’s work is low status and consequently low paid.

For a man to be termed a big girl’s blouse is generally regarded as an insult. The insult is not in being described as an item of clothing, it’s in being like a woman’s item of clothing.

When I was looking at the internet instead of writing this speech the other day I came across the latest writings by godawful Brexiteer shitehawk Dan Hannan in which he described critics of his offhand attitude towards the Irish border question as shrill. Men, who physically have deeper voices are not shrill. The implication is that his opponents are rubbish because they are like women.

It is all around us.

And it starts very young. One of the surprises that my partner and I learned from the Gender Diary project that documented the different ways boys and girls are treated and which culminated in The Gender Agenda book last year was the constant reinforcement girls and boys get that one gender is better than the other.

That to be ‘like a girl’ is to be inferior. Seared into my memory is the scene in a toy shop when a young boy of maybe 7 was playing with the lovely dolls houses on display at the back of the shop only for his father to emerge from the front of the shop and loudly proclaim: “Caught you! Playing with the DOLLS HOUSES”. The shame on the boy’s face as he mumbled ‘no’ and ran off was as heartbreaking as it was infuriating.

It’s no excuse but it’s no wonder when they are told practically from birth that women are inferior, when they see their mothers shouldering the mental load of household tasks while their father does something more important out of the home – and that remains the norm, there is not a country in the world where men do more domestic work than women – why are we surprised that men regard it as inferior, to be avoided, failure.

I don’t think men need to fail because I don’t regard what I do – juggling childcare with freelance work, enjoying spending time with my children because it feels like the most natural thing in the world while my partner does what comes naturally to her – pursuing an impressive and fulfilling career, knowing who needs a pack lunch when and making sure each kid has enough clean shirts for school, stuff that so many women regard as normal – I don’t regard that as failing at all.

Men need to rethink what it means to fail. To throw off the narrow definition of masculine success. In my new book, Dad’s Don’t Babysit, I look at how we can make that happen. Because when it does, when man do their fair share around the home women will be free to succeed in whatever way they choose.

Ladies and gentlemen, by the standards men set I’ve failed. I wish those standards would alter but until they do more men must fail just like I have. And just like me I know millions of them would enjoy better health – mental and physical – and happiness.

For more women to succeed it’s not just that more men must fail, they must embrace failure.”





Sexual harassment: a silly man and DJ Sillyboy

A thoughtful PR sent me a release this morning titled Can This Video Game Teach Men to be Less Creepy when Flirting?

Bloody hell.

There’s ‘gameplay’ footage here. It’s both amusing and horrifying in equal measure. I struggle to believe anyone will actually but the game.  I’m not entirely sure it’s not a hoax. But if it’s real anyone who thinks the best way to find a partner is to sit at home playing a computer game about finding a partner will learn the key to success is not to grab a lady’s behind and instead say ‘that’s interesting’ in a droning voice. Certainly the fella behind it who styles himself a ‘controversial pick up artist’ is at best lacking self-awareness (sitting on double bed with two mute ladies who’ve forgotten to put their clothes one while apparently trying to teach men to respect women? Really??) and at worst a very silly man. I’m not inclined to give him or his Super Seducer game any further publicity.

But it set me thinking about something else I heard recently that feeds into the same theme. That sense of entitlement among men. And how it can be challenged.

And it started with Steve Wright.

As so often, when on the horns of a dilemma or struggling with a really big and complex issue Steve Wright sorts it out.

The afternoon host on Radio 2 also known as DJ Sillyboy read out one of his fatuous factoids the other day and things somehow made sense.

The ‘fact’ (usually something made up by a PR and bagging said ‘account executive’ an extra bag of gack for getting it read out on Radio 2) concerned love at first sight. The claim that 40% of men said they’d fallen in love at first sight, the figure for women was 28%.

Wrighty – who we can assume is a massive feminist due to the fact he’s the only presenter on Radio 2 that play Dua Lipa’s number one New Rules, and he plays it like every day – left the factoid hanging at that.

But somehow that silly sum, whether true or not, goes to the heart of the current debate around sexual harassment.

Men are more likely to claim to have fallen in love at first sight. Because it’s easier for men to fall in love at first sight.

Because men have entitlement.

They don’t have to worry about stuff like emotion, empathy, relationship building and such like, they just look at a woman and decide they’d like to have her.

No-one, thankfully, seems to be claiming such behaviour is innate. Or at least anyone that is can be safely dismissed as a big daft.

So when does it begin?

Almost from birth. How do I know this? Because I wrote a book about it.

The Gender Agenda, authored along with my partner, was published last summer. In it we documented every tiny difference we noticed in the way our son and daughter were treated by friends, family, society, and ourselves.

Gram by stereotypical gram it added up to a huge weight pushing children into certain gendered straitjackets.

The girls side marked by pink and passivity. The boys’ behaviour boisterous and confident – entitled, in other words.

But you don’t have to take our word for it.

The excellent pop science show No More Boys and Girls that aired on the BBC over the summer showed boys lack of vocabulary to describe their emotions and the inevitable result that they turn to violence when they can’t express themselves. Girls, routinely but not deliberately passed over when it came to answer questions in class lacked confidence. A lifetime without Lego meant most lacked the spatial awareness skills that appeared to come ‘naturally’ to their male counterparts.

But with regard to the current moves to take on sexism the vital difference is that boys are raised to look down on girls, and girls are expected to live with that.

Whilst girls can ‘trade up’ and take on traditionally male roles with relatively little comment – playing football, embracing engineering, punching their siblings – the same is not true for boys. They are trained to dismiss all that is pink, to have disdain for caring professions.

In the home kids see a clear division of labour between their parents. Research has found in every country in the world women still do much more domestic work then men, and that kids that see their mothers doing more household tasks and their fathers doing less take that as the natural way of things and repeat the pattern in their grown-up lives. When a mother is haring about doing mundane jobs like making packed lunches, ensuring there’s enough clean school uniform and hoovering she’s taking on a full time management job as well as any paid employment. It’s called the mental load, this now famous cartoon explains it perfectly. But the broader lesson is that society/men – so often they are the same thing – looks down on these tasks and, vitally, thinks it’s OK for women to do them most of the time but not men.

And a society that does not value women as much as men will always end in mistreatment, abuse, not taking women seriously when they raise issues, basically where we are now.

In the wake of Weinstein and the wandering hands scandals at Westminster women are now being listened to in a way they haven’t before. Which is obviously a good thing.

But to stop such behaviour, to prevent it happening all over again – because it will as long as the sexes remain unequal – we need to look at the very start of kids lives.

Love at first sight can provide a solution, the emotion a parent feels upon seeing their baby for the first time. And the drive to make the best possible future for them.

Treat children fairly and equally rather then shunting them into gender stereotyped silos and the belief, implicit or explicit, that one gender is better than the other and therefore entitled to more.

And adults need to model the alternative, share the domestic work and the mental load, women’s work – a phrase widely used as an insult despite feminist attempts to reclaim it – needs to become everyone’s work.

There’ll still be power imbalances, people will mistreat each other but we can work to prevent it becoming so binary and gendered.

We need new rules.



How to understand Brexit

I may have mentioned that I’ve been making a podcast series called The Brexit Breakdown. I made 26 episodes for The UK in a Changing Europe, a research organisation based out of King’s College London who are expert in all things Brexit. Everyone liked it so we made 12 more. In May 2019 we began a new run of 26 episodes.

Each week I have a guest from the world of politics or diplomacy of business on to talk about what Brexit means to them and what ordinary folk need to know about the huge change that’s coming to this country. And we’re joined by a wonk from UK in a Changing Europe as a sort of on-site fact checker and to drill into the issues as required.

One of the features involves asking both the guest and the academic for a recommendation for something that folk can turn to to help understand Brexit.

I’ve collated the recommendations here It’s a sort of library of items from the academic to the esoteric that explain Brexit. Some seem more serious than others but they all go to the heart of the issue whether that’s explainers about the technical details of Brexit or bits of art of one sort of another than tap into a feature of Brexit – perhaps a book that explains dissatisfaction with politics or a song that sums up how negotiations have unfolded or a film with uncanny parallels. Basically I guarantee you’ll find something on this list to enjoy.

See below

Here’s the list:

Episode 1

Matt Chorley, editor of the Times Red Box: Hillbilly Elegy by J D Vance 

Anand Menon, director UK in a Changing Europe: Listen Liberal by Thomas Frank

Episode 2

Grant Shapps, Conservative MP for Welwyn Hatfield and former party chairman: watch BBC Parliament

Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe: Brexit and British Politics by Geoff Evans and Anand Menon

Episode 3

Jonathan Isaby, editor of Brexit Central: How to Lose a Referendum by Jason Farrell and Paul Goldsmith

Simon Usherwood, reader in politics at University of Surrey: follow Richard North and Andrew Duff on Twitter and listen to his own podcast A Diet of Brussels

Episode 4

Gisela Stuart, chair of Vote Leave and Change Britain: Create More podcast, episode 21

Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at Cambridge University: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Episode 5

John Mills, chairman of Labour Leave and chair of JML: Brexit Economics and other pamphlets by John Mills

Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Politics at Rutherford College, University of Kent, and Senior Visiting Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House : Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union by Harold D Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley

Episode 6

Steve Bullock, former UK negotiator to the EU: follow David Allen Green, Steve Analyst Ian Dunt, Jo Maugham, Steve Peers, Kenneth Armstrong on Twitter

Helen Drake, Director, Academy of Diplomacy and International Governance, Loughborough London: educate yourself

Episode 7

Chris Wright, founder of Chrysalis records: the work of Peter Brookes, political cartoonist for The Times

Simon Usherwood, Deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe: follow Brussels correspondents Nick Gutteridge,  Jennifer Rankin and Matt Holehouse

Episode 8

Chuka Umunna, Labour MP for Streatham and chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on EU Relations: BBC Reality Check

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: the work of Katy Hayward

Episode 9

Alison McGovern, Labour Campaign for the Single Market and MP for Wirral South: the work of Professor Philip McCann

Simon Usherwood, Deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe: follow spoof Twitter accounts Berlaymonster and Martini Seltzermayr

Episode 10

Nicole Sykes, Head of EU Negotiations at the Confederation of British Industry: Tony Connelly, RTE Europe editor

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech

Episode 11

Baroness Angela Smith, shadow leader of the House of Lords: Don’t Leave me This Way by The Communards

Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at Cambridge University: Brexit and Ireland by Tony Connelly

Episode 12

Eloise Todd, CEO of Best for Britain: Monty Python’s black knight sketch

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: the work of Raquel Ortega and Philip McCann

Episode 13

Bernard Jenkin, MP and chair of the public administration and constitutional affairs select committe: study European history

Dr Alan Wager, Researcher at UK in a Changing Europe: ‘Brussels should start listening to voters’ by Danny Finkelstein

Episode 14

Gráinne Maguire, comedian: The Irish Passport podcast

Sir John Curtice, superwonk and election exit poll overlord: read UK in a Changing Europe output and follow the links

Episode 15

Lord Kerslake, former head of the civil service: All Out War and Fall Out by Tim Shipman

Simon Usherwood, deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe: We Can Work It Out by The Beatles

Episode 16

Tony Connelly, Europe editor, RTE: BBC Brexitcast podcast

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: follow Peter Foster, Europe editor at The Daily Telegraph

Episode 17

Madeleina Kay, Young European of the Year: follow Mike Galsworthy of Scientists for EU

Dr Alan Wager, Research Associate at UK in a Changing Europe: Question Time by Dave

Episode 18

Arup Banerji, Regional director for the EU at the World Bank: Who Can You Trust? by Rachel Botsman

Simon Usherwood, Deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe: Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Episode 19

Sonia Delesalle-Stolper, UK correspondent for Liberation: the play Ubu the King by Alfred Jarry and The Ministry of Silly Walks sketch by Monty Python

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: read the foreign press particularly El Pais, Liberation and Der Spiegel

Episode 20

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick: No, directed by Pablo Larrain and starring Gael Garcia Bernal

Dr Alan Wager, Research Associate at UK in a Changing Europe: Yes to Europe by Robert Saunders

Episode 21

Henriette Engbersen, UK correspondent for SRF: take a cab tour in Northern Ireland

Catherine Barnard, Professor of European law at Cambridge University: Ivan Rogers’ Glasgow speech

Episode 22

Margot Parker, deputy chairwoman of Ukip: Brexit: The Movie

Simon Usherwood, Deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe: Twilight Arch by James Turrell

Episode 23

Simon Evans, comedian: talk to his dad/your parents/an expert in a particular field

Dr Alan Wager, research associate at UK in a Changing Europe: The Museum of Brexit

Episode 24

Mary Creagh, Labour MP for Wakefield and chair of the Environmental Audit Committee: You Can’t Always Get What You Want by The Rolling Stones

Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe: work of The Hansard Society

Episode 25

Victoria Hewson, counsel to the international trade and compliance unit at the Institute for Economic Affairs: watch the 1975 Oxford Union speeches by Peter Shore and Barbara Castle

Sir John Curtice, superwonk and election exit poll overlord: Brexit: Why Britain voted to leave the European Union by Harold Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley

Episode 26

Matthew Elliott, former chief executive of Vote Leave: Change or Go from Business for Britain

Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe: Munich by Robert Harris

Bonus recommendation

Steve Bullock, former UK negotiator at the EU: Just by Radiohead 



Episode 1

James Kirkup, Director of the Social Market Foundation: the UK in a Changing Europe

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: MP counters like this and this

Episode 2

Asa Bennett, Brexit commissioning editor at The Telegraph: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Dr Alan Wager, research associate at UK in a Changing Europe: Conservative Home

Episode 3

Andrew Bridgen MP: the Institute of Economic Affairs Brexit research

Catherine Barnard, Professor of European law at Cambridge University: The Best of Matt 2018

Episode 4

Stephen Gethins MP, SNP Foreign Affairs spokesman: The European Union: what it is and what it does

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Middle England by Jonathan Coe

Episode 5

Michael Heseltine, Lord and former deputy prime minister: Listen to The Price of Victory

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Watch Brexit; the uncivil war and read The British General Election of 2017 by Philip Cowley and Denis Kavanaugh

Episode 6

Charles Clarke, former Home Secretary: subscribe to UK in a Changing Europe newsletter

Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King’s College London: the UK Trade Policy Observatory, the Institute for Government and BBC Reality Check

Episode 7

Ayesha Hazarika, comedian and former Labour adviser: change your broadband provider

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Brexit and Public Opinion 2019

Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King’s College London: the ‘euro-sausage‘ episode of Yes Minister

Episode 8

Nick von Westenholz, Director of EU Exit and International Trade at the NFU: the work of Gildas the monk

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Dante’s Inferno

Matt Bevington, policy researcher at UK in a Changing Europe: Inside Europe; ten years of turmoil

Episode 9

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Women’s Budget Group: Titanic

Catherine Barnard, Professor of European law at Cambridge University: Implications for business and trade of a no deal exit

Episode 10

Dr Brigid Fowler, senior research at The Hansard Society: This Blessed Plot by Hugo Young

Dr Alan Wager, research associate at UK in a Changing Europe: watch Catherine Barnard on Question Time

Episode 11

Simon Collins, Shetland Fishermen: Giles cartoons

Dr Christopher Huggins, senior lecturer at Suffolk university and UK in a Changing Europe fisheries researcher: Fish Town

Episode 12 (LIVE)

Chris Wilkins, former director of strategy at Number 10: Please Sir by Martyn Joseph

Mike Gapes MP: Tony Connelly, RTE Europe editor

Catherine Barnard, Professor of European law at Cambridge University: Making your mind up by Bucks Fizz

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Bohemian Rhapsody (film – for a break from Brexit)



Episode 1

Claire Fox, writer, director of the Institute of Ideas and Brexit Party candidate: A Brexit Proposal by Chris Bickerton and The Full Brexit

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: The European Elections and Brexit report

Episode 2

Nikki da Costa, senior counsel with the Cicero Group and former director of legislative affairs at Number 10 Downing Street: The Change Curve

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Talking Politics podcast 157: the Copernican Principle

Episode 3

Alexandre Fasel, Swiss ambassador to the UK: The Good Brexiteers Guide to English Lit by John Sutherland

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Thatcher, a Very British Revolution

Episode 4

Paul Goodman, editor of ConservativeHome: The Uncivil War written by James Graham

Adam Cygan, Professor of EU Law at the University of Leicester: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon

Episode 5

Polly Mackenzie, Chief Executive of Demos: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Andy Haldane’s TED Talk ‘Putting the ‘public’ in public institutions’

Episode 6

George Brandis, Australian High Commissioner to the UK: History of England by G M Trevelyan

Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King’s College London: Defeated by Brexit by Christopher Cook

Episode 7

Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King’s College London: Get Ready for Brexit government website

Catherine Barnard, Professor of European law at Cambridge University: The Realities of a No Deal Brexit, Spectator article by Ivan Rogers

Sir John Curtice, superwonk and election exit poll overlord: live news web pages on BBC, Guardian or similar

Episode 8

Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London: the work of the Constitution Unit

Seb Dance, Labour MEP for London: Catch 22 by Jospeh Heller

Episode 9

Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London: The Political Theory of Populism by Nadia Urbinati

Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London and Deputy Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Post Truth by Matthew d’Ancona

Episode 10 (LIVE)

Catherine Barnard, Professor of European law at Cambridge University: Toy Story 4

Jill Rutter, senior fellow at Institute for Government and senior research fellow at UK in a Changing Europe: Hamilton

Sir Jonathan Faull, ‘erstwhile Eurocrat’ – former director general of departments of justice, internal market, press and communications at the EU: Great Nations of Europe by Randy Newman

Peter Foster, Europe editor at the Telegraph: holiday in Northern Ireland

Episode 11

Hussein Kassim, Professor of politics at University of East Anglia: Our Island Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

John Vincent, CEO of the International Federation of Airworthiness: House of Cards (BBC version)

Episode 12

Katy Hayward, reader in sociology at Queen’s University, Belfast and senior fellow at UK in a Changing Europe: I Am The Border So I Am by @BorderIrish

Jonathan Powell, director of Inter Mediate and former chief of staff to Tony Blair: buy an Oyster card and visit the Camden/Islington border and an Easyjet flight to Northern Ireland to visit the border at Warrenpoint

Episode 13

Sir John Curtice, superwonk and election exit poll overlord: BBC Reality Check

Jill Rutter, senior fellow at Institute for Government and senior research fellow at UK in a Changing Europe: UK in a Changing Europe general election centre

Episode 14

Sir John Curtice, superwonk and election exit poll overlord: The Financial Times election coverage

Mark Pack, editor of LibDem newswire: Talking to a Brick Wall by Deborah Mattinson

Mark Wallace, executive editor of Conservative Home: White Elephant by William Norton

Sienna Rodgers, editor of LabourList: The Resolution Foundation weekly email

Episode 15

Jill Rutter, senior fellow at Institute for Government and senior research fellow at UK in a Changing Europe: Richard III

Rafael Behr, Guardian columnist: The Italian Job

Asa Bennett, Brexit commissioning editor at The Telegraph: Romanifesto by Asa Bennett

Episode 16

Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London and senior fellow at UK in a Changing Europe: May at 10 by Anthony Selsdon

Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London and Deputy Director of UK in a Changing Europe: University of Sussex UK Trade Policy Observatory

Episode 17

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: The State of the North report from the IPPR

Will Straw, former executive director of Britain Stronger in Europe: British Journey by Joe Hayman

Episode 18

Katy Hayward, reader in sociology at Queen’s University, Belfast and senior fellow at UK in a Changing Europe: follow David Henig, and others…

David Bailey, Professor of business economics at Birmingham University and senior fellow at UK in a Changing Europe: Brexit isn’t done; what next for the car industry? by Anoosh Chakelian

Sarah Hall, Professor of economic geography at Nottingham University and senior fellow at UK in a Changing Europe: read the regional press

Episode 19

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Listen Liberal by Thomas Frank

Ian Dunt, editor of Leroy Jenkins

Melanie Phillips, columnist for The Times: Richard II Act 2 Scene 1

Episode 20

Meredith Crowley, International Trade Economist, University of Cambridge and senior fellow at UK in a Changing Europe: Free Trade Under Fire by Doug Irwin

Raoul Ruparel, former Special Adviser at the Department for Exiting the EU and special adviser on Europe to Theresa May: the story of the Maastricht rebels, John Major’s autobiography

Episode 21

Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London and Deputy Director of UK in a Changing Europe: The Brexit Blog by Chris Grey

Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London and senior fellow at UK in a Changing Europe:Three Years in Hell; the Brexit chronicles by Fintan O’Toole

Episode 22

Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London and Deputy Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Goldfinger

Lucy Powell, Labour MP and shadow business and consumer minister: Brexitland by Rob Ford (forthcoming)

Episode 23

Dr Philippa Whitford, SNP MP and Westminster health spokesperson: All Out War by Tim Shipman

Professor Tamara Hervey, Jean Monnet chair of EU Law at Sheffield University: Brexit, Health and Me film

Episode 24

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Inequality; what can be done by Tony Atkinson

Nick Timothy, former joint chief of staff to Theresa May: watch Sunderland Til I Die (but not to understand Brexit)

Episode 25

Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe: Electoral Shocks; the volatile voter in a turbulent world from the British Election Study

Philip Rycroft, former permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU: Thomas Cromwell; a life by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Episode 26

Jill Rutter, senior fellow at Institute for Government and senior research fellow at UK in a Changing Europe: Eyemouth fishing disaster memorial

Dr Christopher Huggins, senior lecturer at Suffolk university and UK in a Changing Europe fisheries researcher: Cornwall; this fishing life

Brexit Breakdown

Here, at last, is the first episode of my new podcast project. It’s called The Brexit Breakdown.

The UK in a Changing Europe, they don’t like being called a think tank (but they are a think tank), have taken me on to produce these hopefully for the next year. The idea is that they are a longer listen with guests from across the Brexit and political divides and from all sorts of other areas too – we’ve a playwright, a scientist and hopefully a comedian lined up. Episode one’s guest, for reasons, was journalist Matt Chorley from The Times.

Please listen and like, share, comment, review etc. I don’t think it’s on iTunes just yet but when it is, and it’ll be on Acast, Stitcher etc too, then, again, please review and share and all that.

It’s me on the telly again

Here I am doing a Sunday morning newspaper review with the man from the Sun on Sunday, David Wooding.

He said that 70-80% of our laws come from Brussels. I suggested that was nonsense. There was lots of Brexit talk.

And I called out the patriarchy for terrifying women about childbirth.

I was wearing the new suit my mum bought me for my birthday. Do share your thoughts on it in the comments.

Watch here:

I’ve been on Woman’s Hour!

Jane Garvey, presenter of Woman’s Hour, joins the list of heroes I have met who turned out to be just as great in real life as you’d hope – along with the likes of Glen Campbell and Graeme Garden.

When Woman’s Hour called up a few weeks ago to say they were keen to feature me and partner Ros on the programme talking about our book The Gender Agenda I was delighted. I’ve been a fan of Woman’s Hour for years, it’s an amazing example of brilliant radio – that’s why it’s run for so long. And when the producer added that they’d like to dedicate the entire episode of the programme, with it’s listenership knocking five million people, to us and our book I was astounded.

Today was the day. Ros and I headed for Broadcasting House, had our picture taken in front of a yellow screen for some reason (see above), met Jane Garvey and went on air. We gave it a bit of chit chat about the book. Then the great British public phoned in. We’d done our homework the night before, prepared for all sorts of difficult questions and issues that might come our way. We shouldn’t have worried. The Woman’s Hour audience were broadly onside with our agenda (apart from Steven, and Ros gave him what for) and told us about all sorts of examples of the ways children are treated differently according to their gender from a very young age (as if there weren’t already enough examples in the book!) It was inspiring and empowering to hear so many people who are aware of the issues and keen to do something about it.

Listen in here or download the episode –

My beard looking amazing on TV

I’ve been doing some broadcast. Which is interesting if you just like watching me on TV, but also if you should be looking for a pundit or presenter to talk/do politics. If it’s the latter then please get in touch.

First I was on BBC Parliament reviewing the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the new parliament. It was a bit bright so I’m squinting slightly but on the plus side I didn’t need many takes to film it.

Here it is. I’m about 10 minutes in –

And then on Sunday night I was back reviewing the papers on the BBC News Channel alongside City AM’s Rachel Cunliffe. She’s one to watch, I suspect she’s got the drive and ability to go far. We made a decent double act with a wide variety of stories to get stuck in to. I still managed to get some feminism in at the end. (For the avoidance of doubt I said I’d be watching the tennis player we talked about because I hoped she’d win). And I’m not a vain man but I couldn’t help notice that my beard did look good during this TV appearance. Entirely through accident rather than any care I put into it.

Here’s the two review slots.


Terrorism and a fun run. There is little obvious connection apart from perhaps security concerns if it was a particularly well-attended fun run.

But a thought I had at the end of my children’s school’s fun run has grown and meandered in the month since, a month that’s been scarred by atrocities, and finally driven me to write something on a subject I’ve been meaning to tackle all year: men.

As I rounded the last bend on the Peckham Rye running course there was two people in front of me on the fun run. My shins had seized up, I’d not set a satisfactory time. And yet I found the strength – mental and physical – to sprint the last 200 yards and get past the pair ahead.

The folk I overtook thought the small crowd were cheering their effort, in fact they were cheering because I’d turned the fun run competitive for a brief moment.

Now this story is remarkably like one that Grayson Perry tells in his excellent book The Descent of Man. He’s a keen cyclist and recounts a strange urge to catch up and defeat a fellow cyclist ahead of him on a hill.

It’s a stupid masculine behaviour.

And it is stupid. Being competitive or aggressive is not particularly helpful in the game of life if you want to reproduce, it’s not some in built behaviour, as Cordelia Fine so elegantly explains in her latest book. And in the same tome she trashes the idea that men are beholden to testosterone in the way they behave.

Part of me was delighted at overtaking two fellow runners on the final stretch. Part of me was delighted that I’d made them feel silly for thinking the crowd was cheering them when it was me, or at least the race scenario I’d engendered they were hollering about. But more of me was appalled at me, a fully paid up feminist for many years now, falling foul of a daft masculine trope.

In the weeks since there’s been a string of terrorist attacks – in Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park. The attackers of course had one thing in common – they were men. And for what feels like the first time people are beginning to take seriously the masculinity element in terrorism. The links between terror attackers and domestic abuse are being exposed.

Competition and control are bits of the male jigsaw that make an ugly picture.

And there was another element that’s fed into my thinking about masculinity.

At new year I made three new year’s resolutions.

One was to be nicer to homeless people, there’s so many of them now compared to the New Labour years when the problem was all but wiped out. I now carry some loose change in my pocket ready to hand out if approached or if I see someone sleeping rough. It’s a start.

I can’t remember what the second resolution was. Probably something to do with golf.

And third I resolved to make a friend. A man friend.

My partner pointed out that I already have friends. And that’s true. But I responded by explaining that I have a healthy heart (I know this because I had my age 40 NHS MOT last year) but that doesn’t stop me trying to keep fit. My mental and physical health may be fine at the moment (and both have fluctuated over the years), but that only means that now is the time to take measures to ensure both stay that way.

And my Man Friend Project is about mental health largely. I want to interrogate what it means to be and have a friend and why men are so bad at making new ones.

One of the best ways to inoculate yourself against poor mental health is to have a support network, inevitably made up of family and friends. The evidence suggests that men with the widest support networks enjoy the best mental health. (Caveats apply of course, having lots of friends does not mean inevitably you won’t get depressed for example).

Again, referring back to Grayson Perry’s book he suggests men accumulate friends in a different way to women. While women pick up friends at school then add more at college and more at each job they have men drop friends at each stage. So when they leave school they will join a new circle at friends at university or work and take only one or two friends along with them through life. That’s certainly been my experience (but yes I know that doesn’t make it science) and when I talk to other people about this that’s backed up by their lives too.

Now, there is one reason why male mental health is a particularly tricky subject. It is something that is used by the so-called Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs – it sounds like a disease, they are one) as a trojan horse to undermine women’s rights and attack women. MRAs are broadly hateful and stupid and they regard human rights as a zero sum game – so the fact women have won more rights in recent decades means men must have lost rights. And when they are called out for the misogynists they are they respond by shouting ‘male suicide’. Because suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK. That’s terrible and each one is a tragedy. But part of that statistic is to do with the all-round improvement in healthy lifestyles reducing the death toll from other causes. Male mental health is an issue that needs to be looked at carefully and considerately, not by people using it as a way to shut down debate about their motives for setting up dodgy organisations that peddle lady hate.

And what the MRAs don’t tend to flag up is that more women attempt suicide than men. It’s just men attempt suicide using different, more fatal methods. Even in this grim area there are gender differences and like in every other area they are not the product of biology.

So while MRAs tend to suggest male mental health is affected by feminism not allowing them to be ‘real men’ any more I come at the issue from the other end of the telescope. That it is the straitjacket of masculinity that causes mental health problems. That stops men reaching out to each other to become friends.

I ought to define masculinity here I guess – I suppose I mean competitiveness, aggression, a lack of empathy and emotional intelligence or at least a belief that such behaviours should not be displayed, disrespect for femininity. (And if that sounds like a list of negative characteristics that’s because it is. I’d likely define femininity in negative terms too. Both are ways of artificially simplifying the complexity of the human condition.)

And since we’re on definitions I probably ought to define friendship. But I’m still working on that one. Is a friend someone you can call up and go for a pint with? Is a friend someone you’ve known a long time? Is a friend someone you go for a pint with and know that you could tell them you were having a mental health crisis, you know, if you HAD to? Is a friend someone you’ve met and liked and they like you but you don’t know each other that well?

This is relevant here because by coincidence a few weeks ago I bumped into Julianne Marriott. Is she a friend? Or an acquaintance? We met for professional reasons, our paths have crossed since and we always enjoy each other’s company over a coffee or a drink. Though I did once stand next to her on the tube for an entire journey without recognising her so that suggests acquaintance.

Julianne is involved with the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. Here’s something bringing together two themes: terrorism and mental health – the mental health of people alone not the mental health of Jo’s killer, who was of course a man who was wicked rather than ill.

The Commission, led by Tory MP Seema Kennedy and Labour’s Rachel Reeves, is focussing on different aspects of loneliness. In our increasingly atomised society it’s a growing problem that needs to be addressed. Being alone is fine, being lonely – having no-one you can reach out to – is not.

The commission’s most recent topic has been male loneliness. When I was talking to Julianne about The Man Friend Project she invited me along to an event in a men’s shed. Not just a man’s shed, that would be really weird. The Men’s Shed movement has grown in recent years. The idea is that men, particularly middle-aged and older men get together to do something. Because men do stuff. Invariably it’s woodwork or metalwork or something like that. The theory is that while men won’t discuss their problems to another man’s face, they might do so if standing shoulder to shoulder over a lathe. If a lathe is an actual thing. I know nothing about practical things which is part of the problem with the men’s shed movement. By assuming that all men are handy and like doing stuff it panders to stereotype and seeks to treat the symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself. But there’s a strong case to be made that you have to deal with the world as you find it so to that end it’s admirable.

And its success speaks for itself.

The men I spoke to at the shed on an estate just north of King’s Cross clearly benefit hugely from it.

A chap called Kevin told me it gave him a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Another bloke said he’s spent most of his life being drunk but the shed had turned his life around. But I was still a bit afraid when he said he was going to batter me for being a Crystal Palace fan because he was a West Ham follower, luckily he followed that with a toothless laugh.

Ray explained that men are hit harder when they are left on their own either by divorce or bereavement and they find it harder to ask family for help. The occasional woman stops by the shed and Ray explained that kept the swearing in check. He said the people there aren’t racist, sexist or ageist which all seemed true. But they weren’t feminist either.

I also spoke to Seema Kennedy and Rachel Reeves about the whole issue. It was noisy in the shed but here’s what they had to say:

But the men there baulked when I tried to discuss friendship and feelings. They told me I was over-thinking things. They may be right.

But there is an issue here. The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness have identified men as a group that requires special attention. (Seema Kennedy in the clip says there are only two groups of people, inferring men and women but she’s either being daft or disingenuous or, my preferred option, simply didn’t understand my clumsy question. The other groups I was referring to are older people, teenagers, mothers etc.)

The MRAs have sprung up because toxic masculinity is being challenged like never before, and to me that is all for the good. Others have written more persuasively and cogently than me on this topic – see Grayson Perry, Rebecca Asher was ahead of the curve with her book Man Up and look out for Chris Hemming’s forthcoming Be A Man which might be interesting coming from someone who has turned their back on lad culture.

And analysts and commentators are drawing a very short and straight line between terror and gender.

I don’t really see the need to entertain any idea that it is sex rather than gender that drives these behaviours. Cordelia Fine has driven a coach and horses through the silly ‘pink brain/blue brain’ analysis. My own book The Gender Agenda out next month that grew from the @GenderDiary Twitter account provides a wealth of examples of the way children are directed into certain behaviours from a very young age.

So toxic masculinity is being assaulted from different angles. Mine is friendship – how men make friends, how they can make more friends, how that can help with coping with life because we all need help coping with life.

I don’t know exactly where the project goes next. Get in touch with suggestions.

When I tweeted my new year’s resolution a man tweeted back to say he’d be my friend. Which was nice. But weird. But then a lot of thinking and acting around this subject feels weird, in part precisely because I’m a victim of the masculine straitjacket myself. Should I go on man dates to make friends with strangers? If I did there would be something false about the situation. Should I identify male acquaintances and look to develop them into friends? I can only do that once I understand exactly what friendship is. (It’s the old newspaper editor’s infuriating demand: ‘I don’t know what I want but I’ll know it when I see it.’)

I met a friend earlier this year for a drink and started the conversation by saying “John, are you my friend?” He spluttered into his pint glass. But he agreed that he was my friend (phew!) and we kicked around the idea that I could do podcasts with friends and non-friends with the starting point of the same question: “Are you my friend?” If you’d like to hear that then encourage me and I’ll do it.

I wonder about joining groups too. My parents generation were in all sorts of clubs like Rotary and Round Table. That certainly meant they had company, but how many of those people were friends? It’s hard to say but when my dad was in hospital recently a string of Rotarians came to visit. Even if they weren’t his friends they were a support network. But nobody has the time to be in such clubs now do they? Women do. The WI is expanding at a rate of knots suggesting younger women recognise the issue of an atomised society and are doing something about it. Why is it so much harder for men to do the same? If the Women’s Institute can regenerate why isn’t the Rotary Club a hip activity for men? And I only put this out there as a question but is it because they let women in? Such clubs were bastions of the old boys network but was it the case that they couldn’t evolve into something more modern and male because masculinity is so brittle?

So there’s the Man Friend Project. Its genesis has been wide ranging. It’s future is likely to be similarly woolly. But thanks for reading. Please get in touch with suggestions, criticisms, and ideas on how to take it forward.



New Podcast: Scottish Labour’s top man gloating at SNP defeat (& Tory wins?)

Ian Murray returned to the podcast this week. For two years he was Scottish Labour’s only MP and he talks about how “singularly unpleasant” the SNP were to him in that time. He’s honest and open about how pleased he was to see certain SNP MPs lose – Alex Salmond in particular who he says was “awful” to him albeit he didn’t inflict an actual wedgie on Ian – and I feel for him on that front. It was a tough time for Ian, he’s a decent chap and it’s pleasing on a personal level that he’s got Scots colleagues again.

However, a listener got in touch to point out that in many seats – including Salmond’s – where the SNP lost the Conservatives won and it jarred to hear a Labour politician appearing to welcome a Tory gain. That’s a fair point and I accept I probably ought to have challenged Ian on that.

Instead Ian and I and Lindsay Razaq from the Press and Journal – always an insightful contributor but listen out for her particularly smart spot in the Queen’s Speech – talked about fish, sending Derek McKay to the moon and how to stay cool in the summer.

Listen in here

New Podcast: the election predictions are in

This week’s podcast features some people who really ought to know better making their general election predictions.

Three wise men – former Lib Dem spin doctor Matt Withers, deputy political editor of the Independent Rob Merrick and Birmingham Mail political editor Jon Walker – take on two small children to see who can most accurately predict the outcome of the election.

Plus there’s my prediction. And bear in mind while the pundits and the children on my 2015 election prediction episode all said Ed Miliband would win I called it for the Tories some way in advance. So I’m confident of repeating that success this time out.

Listen in to our predictions. Laugh at us all on Friday when Jeremy Corbyn wins..