Thursday 31 August 2017

Of Friends and Foe and Felons | Some thoughts on online and other abuse and responses to it

No one who watched No More Boys and Girls | Can Our Kids Go Gender Free? on BBC 1 recently can deny that there is still a lot to do to ensure that our genitals at birth do not determine our life chances and choices. I am not surprised, but still heartbroken, that seven year old girls consistently rate their abilities as less than they are and that seven year old boys find the expression of any emotion other than anger extremely difficult. One thing the two programmes showed was the importance of language and communication; i.e. the ways in which we address and label children and the ways in which we talk to them.  

One especially disturbing issue of concern to many at the moment is that of abuse during online communication. There is clear evidence that this is gendered. Specifically with politicians in mind an analysis by the University of Sheffield and Buzzfield News showed that Jeremy Corbyn MP (followed by Theresa May MP) received the most online abuse during the run up to the June General Election and as a group male Conservatives received more abuse than any other group of MPs. However, whilst men were often addressed as idiot or coward, bitch and witch was commonly used in communications with women; the word ‘kill’ was also more likely to be directed at women MPs, and men, unlike women, were not subject to rape treats. As ever swear words relating to women’s genitalia were commonly used to insult both male and female MPs and non-White politicians were subject to racial stereotyping and abuse with Diane Abbott MP experiencing significant and repeated attack. 

There is also evidence to suggest that abuse towards women often included reference to appearance (including weight) although a significant minority of that directed at Jeremy Corbyn was also appearance related. I have written about gender and language previously:

It has long been argued (seemingly supported given the frequency and vitriolic nature of their use) that the worst, most offensive verbal abuses are those that refer to women’s genitals or to women’s motherhood identity. So calling someone a cunt or a twat, a son-of-a-bitch or a motherfucker are serious signifiers of disrespect. Hearing these, alongside other swear words which derogatively refer women to animals or to food is part of the everyday sexism that girls and women are subject to. The normalisation of these descriptors though doesn't make them any easier to hear.

Social media - which I greatly appreciate both for its challenge to the mainstream media and the opportunity it provides for broad based discussion, debate and education - adds to the problem. I, and I know I am not alone in this, am dismayed by the possibilities it gives for smears and insults, bullying and intimidation; both from named individuals and those who hide behind anonymity/ alternative identities.  Indeed, on many occasions the ease of the action seems to inflame the activity. Sadly, it seems that people from all sides of the political debate; both those on the Right and on the Left, use Twitter and Facebook and so on, to assault those with whom they do not agree. Even those who are not particularly aggressive or personal in their condemnation of a person, political party, policy or news item often resort to chauvinistic abuse; unfortunately supporting the view that these are just normal, everyday, acceptable insults.  With this in mind I groan when people I admire refer to the minister for health as Jeremy *unt and I shudder when those I don’t combine racism, sizeism ageism with misogyny to describe or lambast female, and male, politicians and those that support or challenge their approach, actions and ideas.

Post-election the online trolling has continued and again gender appears to be an issue with – at least on my timeline – a particular focus on female Labour MPs. One recent ‘drama’ in the mainstream media, as well as online, is the response to the recently elected Laura Pidcock MPs' comments on her choice, or not, of friends. So although other Labour politicians have repeatedly made clear their distaste for friendships across the political floor Ms Pidcock’s views have been commented on, analysed and critiqued ad infinitum. See for example just a small selection in the, arguably, more left leaning mainstream press:  

I found one paragraph in the latter article linked here particularly interesting:

She [Pidcock] is right to be appalled at the conditions in which the poorest people live in this, one of the most advanced countries on earth. She is right to feel anger at the lack of good quality, safe housing for many, at children going hungry this summer holiday because their parents cannot afford food. Her arguments are powerfully put, representing the raw anger that many politicians have expressed over social injustices over the years. It is a pity, then, that she undermines her own case by declaring she cannot be friends with politicians from other parties. What’s more, Pidcock wheels out the tired claim that Conservatives hate women – something that is self-evidently untrue about a party which is on its second female leader.

I accept that to be effective at work we sometimes have to make alliances with people we don’t like or respect. BUT, when day after day there is more and more evidence that our current government is working hard, very hard, for the few whilst perpetuating the abuse of the many, I have more and more empathy for Ms Pidcock's views and approach. Remember this: 

And read this:

More felons than friends, or even foes, here then . . . 

Furthermore, it is sloppy to argue that two female prime-ministers proves that Conservatives ‘like’ and support women. Not least because we know that many of their practices and policies impact most negatively on women and because Tory respect for women seems to based on gendered stereotypes of women’s so-called most important functions in society

Whatever, not to worry, as Ms Pidcock continues to work hard at her job. For one example read this report of her reaction to the government’s rejection of a call to halt the roll-out of Universal Credit (which critics, including Labour MPs, argue pushes people into rent arrears, and to food banks) in the North East just before Christmas:

Sticking with the theme of friends, foes and felons we are told repeatedly that those of us on the Left are quicker to express prejudice and to discriminate against and abuse others. That this is repeated, with little or no evidence, again and again is both upsetting and tiring, so very tiring. For the very many of us who support the Labour Party and continue to work, in whatever persuasive, but respectful, ways we can, to highlight the need for a government that will work ‘for the many, not the few’ this continuing critique is both disrespectful and unjust. One current criticism, from various quarters, both inside and outside the movement, is that Labour is sexist. Well, of course it is, as is every other political Party, the institutions in which we work and the families in which we live, the media we watch and read and so on and so on. After all, we live in a world that accepts that it is OK for seven year olds to express themselves and their life hopes and expectations in terms of gender difference. So how could Labour be exempt from all this? That’s not to say that we shouldn’t continue to challenge (any and all prejudice and discrimination), to work for and promote change. Of course we should be doing this and doing this together. From my own experience I can only say how much I value talking and working with all those who share my concerns about our society just now. In the late 1990s my husband John, whose life was much troubled at times, wrote and had published a poem, complete with brief explanation. Here it is:

You Make Me Fear You
You make me fear you
Your blue and grey intensity
Your friendless eyes assessing me
Because you’re frightened

You fear me so you make me fear
No that’s not true
You fear us

You see us, humiliated
Most of us have lived with humiliation
Most of us

I have not.
A new experience eh?
Everyone should try everything once
Maybe not.

I know where my fear comes from
Physical fear
I know what you might do to me
Mental fear
I know what I might do to myself
No chance you bastard
How dare you.

Your own fear drives you to brutality
The best form of defence is attack?
You are right to fear us
You give us cause to fear us
You give us cause to hate you
How dare you.

The poem, I hope, is self-explanatory. I would like it to mean something to people who feel threatened at times – not as individuals, but as ‘representatives’ of a ‘group’. Readers, hopefully, will find their own groups. Mine include women, black people, gays and lesbians, prisoners . . .  (John Shiels (1997) ‘You Make Me Fear You’ in K. Whitaker Perceptions England: Forward Press)

Re-reading John’s poem now reminds me of the need to make sure we highlight  – the horrors  - that we can clearly evidence – of prejudice, discrimination and hate radiating from some of those on the Right. There is a lot of material here… One example, that has been much reported in alternative medias, and some mainstream newspapers, just this week, is a supposed Conservative grassroots movement - Activate - which emerged with a clear agenda ‘to engage young people with conservatism’. Alongside other problems (maybe more on this another day) the group has been forced to apologise for extremely offensive remarks that some members have made about others they clearly consider to be of lesser value than themselves. See AND

Produced by EL4JC

To (almost) end where I started; language and what we do with it is important. So too is the way in which we respond to online, face-to-face, verbal, physical and material abuse. 

To those who have read this far and agree (with at least some) of what I say here, please let's continue to work together, whilst respecting our similarities and our differences, for ourselves and for others; for the many, not the few


Saturday 19 August 2017

If Big Ben Was a Dandelion Clock | some thoughts ...

If Big Ben was a dandelion clock,
It wouldn’t go tick-tock,
Or BONG, BONG, BONG . . . .

If Big Ben was a dandelion clock,
How would we know when to watch the news; set of the fireworks to mark a new year; leave the EU?

If Big Ben was a dandelion clock,
We’d have to rely on our watches, or our phones. Can you imagine anything worse?

If Big Ben was a dandelion clock,
What other icon could we employ to demonstrate to the world our greatness and our pride and our glory? 

If Big Ben was a dandelion clock,
There’d be less bluff and bluster to distract us all from:
·        Summer holiday child hunger and the many other dire consequences of living in ‘food bank Britain’,
·        The cuts to benefits and rises to pension age and the truth behind the ‘high’ employment stats (including pay caps, zero hours contracts and more) which means that work is NOT the route out of poverty for growing numbers of individuals and families,
·        The not so slow, but sure, dismantlement and destruction of the NHS; the sometimes inefficient and often extortionately priced railway system; the crises in our prisons and our schools and in social care. . . etc. etc. and so on and so on.
·        IN SUM the overwhelming evidence that our society as it is works for the few and not for the many.

If Big Ben was a dandelion clock,
There might be more focus on morals rather than (so-called) morale (and yet I know I’m far from being the only one less than bothered about the disruption).

So we would be spared our observation of the xenophobic umbrage of those who believe the announcement of the name change to Massive Mohammed.

And instead of fretting over a four year repair job that is definitely ‘not a national disaster’, those that are paid to govern the country might concern themselves more with the rise of ideologies that fuel and foster hate and the very real threats to peace at home and abroad.

If Big Ben was a dandelion clock,
Do you know, just now, I’d really rather it was. 

Friday 18 August 2017

Empathy, Apathy and Worse | Applauding the First, Rejecting the Rest

Along with hundreds of others I recently submitted a short story to @twenty4stories the project which aims to raise money for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) - related needs (see here for more detail ) for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire through the production and sale of an anthology of creative writing. There were 24 floors/stories of flats in Grenfell and with reference to this the anthology will include 12 creative pieces by established writers and 12 by others who are less well-known. In an interview about the project, in answer to who and what the team were looking for, Paul, one of the projects founders, replied: 

Anyone. As long as they're positive, optimistic tales on the themes of community, unity and hope. We want this collection to be a platform for new voices as much as anything else. One of the many issues that Grenfell has illuminated is the great social divide that stretches way beyond Kensington and Chelsea. We want this book to reach out to, and be written by, a true reflection of our community. 

The hard working editorial team, which includes the actor and comedian Kathy Burke, are currently reading through the hundreds of submissions from regular writers and others for whom this is a first attempt at such work. Follow their progress at Twenty-four Stories on Facebook and/or on Twitter @twenty4stories.

Of course most of us who have submitted a piece of writing will not make it into the anthology but this doesn’t really matter for after all we can read our creations to friends, post them online, rework and refine, or file for later. . .  From the many tweets and Facebook comments the main point of submission for many was to show support for and solidarity with the project team, the victims of Grenfell and the people of Kensington and Chelsea. The following is typical:

@twenty4stories so exciting. Good luck to all who participated in this fantastic project. I can’t wait to buy and read all the stories.

@twenty4stories Good luck going through them all! Was proud just to send something for such a great cause. Will look forward to the end result!

Amongst other examples of support for Grenfell has been the provision of holidays for survivors of the tragedy and for the firefighters who worked at the scene. My own home town – Falmouth, Cornwall – is part of this. For more detail see here 
and here (the latter includes an appeal for holiday spending money should you wish to donate). 

The once residents of Grenfell Tower still have many challenges to face at least, but not limited to, the following:

-       As of the 14th August only 14 households have been permanently rehoused and 134 families are still living in hotel rooms.

-       Only 49 of the (at least) 80 people who have died have been formally identified.

-       Although £18.8 million has been raised by fundraising charities thus far only £2.2 million of this has been distributed to survivors so far.


-       There is also widespread concern that the Grenfell Tower inquiry is not going far enough. For example:

Radical Housing Network – an activist collective that includes the Grenfell Action Group – said the Government had missed an opportunity to answer wider questions. 
“This is yet another refusal by the Government to confront the enormity of Grenfell, and the indictment of our housing system which it represents,” a spokesperson said. 
“Investigators should be looking at the social policies which allowed such a tragedy in 21st-century Britain, and the way these have created a housing system in which some people matter more than others" [See too this recent letter written by the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister ].

Acknowledging these and other issues hundreds of people joined in a silent march on Monday the 14th August; exactly two months after the fire. It won’t be the last:

A post on a Facebook group called Silent March - Grenfell Tower read: “A silent and peaceful march to take place on the 14th of every month. This is to pay respect to those who are no longer with us. This is also a movement to ensure we get Justice4Grenfell. 

“The silence can speak a thousand words. We are more powerful together!"

With Grenfell in mind then there are, despite the continued distress, many examples of love and support; of attempts at empathy ('the ability to understand and share the feelings of another'). For although those of us who have not been through the experience can never fully understand what those who have are going through many of us are trying to show support in whatever ways we can. And yet, there are those who are apathetic ('showing or feeling no interest, enthusiasm or concern'), even hateful, towards those affected: from home-owners who complain that their property may be devalued if Grenfell residents move nearby to individuals tweeting abusively about those who are in receipt of holidays and other such support. 

This week I read (an account I initially thought was a (sad and distasteful) joke) a blog by J. P. Floru, a Westminster City councillor, entitled:  How to inoculate your children against socialism’ (I am not going to provide a link, you can find it if you like). Amongst other things Mr Floru has advice for parents thus:

Make sure that your child realises that he or she is free to share or not. By all means tell them it would be a good idea, and morally recommendable, but never force them. Never make them share as a matter of course. 

Happily, research and real-world experience, suggests that children (and adults) are more likely to behave altruistically than selfishly. For example: 

Studies of 18-month-old toddlers show that they will almost always try to help an adult who is visibly struggling with a task, without being asked to do so: if the adult is reaching for something, the toddler will try to hand it to them, or if they see an adult drop something accidentally, they will pick it up. 


Worldwide, the aftermath of natural [and those caused by humans] disasters are typically characterized by heroism and a sharing of resources — within the affected community and in others farther way — not selfish panics. During the terrorist attacks of 9/11, for example, there were no accounts of people being trampled rushing out of the World Trade Center towers; rather, those who needed assistance descending were cared for, and calm mainly prevailed.://

There have been similar reactions to more recent terrorist attacks. For example (as I wrote a few months ago):  

I was online when the attack [in Manchester] happened and it was wonderful to see the very many tweets and re-tweets with offers of shelter for the night, use of phone chargers, free taxi rides and food, plus the helpful phone numbers and other useful information. [And we are hearing similar in the aftermath of the Barcelona attack].

And yet, sadly, here too there was evidence of more hateful responses:

. . . . a Muslim surgeon who worked for 48 hours following the attack: ‘Go back to your own country you terrorist, we don’t want people like you here. Fuck off’, a man shouted at him when he was next on his way to work.

One doesn’t need a psychology degree to appreciate that sharing, giving, helping has benefits for those that share, give, help. Furthermore, compassion is a strength and not a weakness and just like smiles and laughter and affection, it can be catching; is often cumulative.  

I am grateful for initiatives like @twenty4stories, Cornwall Hugs Grenfell and the Silent March - Grenfell Tower. Not only do these, and other such initiatives for this tragedy and others, provide us all with opportunities to get involved they also remind us all of the power, and benefits for all, of community, of solidarity, of unity, of hope.  To end with an image. I’ve posed this before but it’s still my favourite this year:

What happens when humans hug

Friday 11 August 2017

Childhood Memories, Food Poverty and Political Responsibilities | Personal Reflections and Experiences

Mum, Me, Dad
I am, I accept, very privileged. I live in a well furnished and accessorised home that I can afford to keep warm in winter. I earn more than enough money to feed and clothe myself. I have spare cash for treats for myself and I am able to regularly contribute to the local foodbank and other causes. Supported by an occupational pension (which I sacrificed a percentage of to take several years early) I work part-time and spend some of the rest of my week on voluntary work and activism. I remember though, what is was like, as a child, to experience poverty.

Before they married my mother was repeatedly told that my father was ‘a catch’. Having left school at 14 he worked in a factory but owned his own house bequeathed to him by his father. The first nine years of their marriage (two before I was born and the remainder as a small family of three) were ‘comfortable’.  My dad though, following some time abroad at the end of World War II, and in possession of a somewhat wandering spirit, was not satisfied with living and dying in Liverpool, the place of all our births. He persuaded my mum that an experience was in order and after selling the house and most of our belongings we left the area with all we owned in a couple of large suitcases. There followed four years of travelling – North and South Wales, Blackburn, London, Sheffield, Edinburgh and The Bahamas – before we settled in Falmouth, Cornwall. It was in The Bahamas where things started to go off plan. We travelled there with a friend of my dad’s who was sharing the cost of this part of the adventure with my parents. For reasons I won’t go into here he cut short his trip with us and took his share of the money with him leaving my parents, who had already spent most of theirs, rather short. Although I didn’t know it at the time we left earlier than planned but not before we had got into arrears with the rent. I do remember though that our diet became less varied in the last weeks abroad with the oranges and coconuts from the garden making up a significant part of each meal. Arriving back in London we had enough money for a few nights' accommodation but then things got difficult again. We only had one night on the streets (or rather in a railway carriage opened for us by a kind railway guard) during which my parents decided to ask some old friends on the outskirts of London to take me in whilst they attempted to ‘get themselves sorted’. The friends insisted that we all stay and after a few weeks some relatives of theirs, who we knew a little, helped us out and so we moved to Blackburn for a while until some other friends of friends in South Wales also took us in. I don’t recall now for how long we were dependent on the goodwill of others; certainly a good few months. My dad was ‘handy’ and did odd DIY jobs wherever we stayed – long enough in Blackburn and Cardiff for me to go to school – and I remember my mum cooking and cleaning alongside the woman of the house in each location. Although most of his occupations were blue-collar my dad was a writer too and at this time he earned a little bit of money writing stories and articles. Following the offer to rent a small cottage – two up, two down with a loo at the bottom of the garden – and the possibility of a job for my dad we moved to Sheffield. We lived there, I think, for about nine months but as autumn became winter and my mum was recovering from her second bout of pleurisy since moving into the damp accommodation we packed our cases once more and boarded the train to Cornwall.

We ‘settled’ in Falmouth for the next seven years, largely, I know now, so that I could have an uninterrupted secondary education. We lived in various flats in the town and my parents both worked; dad as a hotel night porter and mum as a shop assistant and two years working together managing a restaurant. It was in Sheffield, once a regular wage started to come in, that my parents began to pay back the, not insubstantial amount of, money they owed to the extremely patient owner of the house in Nassau. Times were lean, especially during one short period when neither of my parents had a job. My mum was a good cook and did inventive things with beans before it was fashionable and the mackerel gifted to her by local fishermen, on average twice weekly when she was working in a newsagents (see below), was always a highlight. We left Falmouth when I was 19 to move to Coverack, somewhere my parents had always loved, and mum and dad worked for the summer season in the restaurant of the village’s largest hotel whilst I attended the county’s further education college.  Sadly, my father died, unexpectedly nine months later, and my mum continued, for several years, to do two jobs in the summer and rely on benefits during the winter.

I appreciate that some might think that my father’s, my parents’, choices were foolhardy and I know that they experienced much anxiety during much of my childhood. Yet, my memories are bright and full of colour. Mum and dad often went short themselves so that I could do many of the things my friends did, we did free and inexpensive things together and we talked and laughed and loved each other. It was indeed an adventure for me. I was never frightened and always trusted them completely. But, I do remember, as I say, what it was like to experience poverty (although at the time I never thought of us as poor); through homelessness, lack of food (not constantly but sometimes), little money at Christmas or for other high-days and holidays. This year, this summer in particular, I have thought more and more about these aspects of my childhood (usually I reflect more on the places we saw, the fun we had) and I share these memories as a possible insight into my personal feelings of distress with respect to food (and other) poverty in our society today. 

I wrote recently about some of the reactions of the Left and the Right to recent reports about the scale of summer hunger amongst school aged (and other) children.

Like many others I was incensed by the twitter remarks of Conservative MP Simon Hoare. Just a brief reminder here of his response to a tweet by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn:

@jeremycorbyn:  This is a national disgrace. We can't have millions of children going hungry over the school holidays.

@Simon4NDorset: Go on Jezza: do your thing with the loaves and the fishes! Best to stop walking on the water before you do though.

I had already written, and had published (online and in print), a letter to The Guardian agreeing with Mr Corbyn’s (and Angela Rayner MPs’) feelings of disgrace at the near Dickensian levels of food poverty under ‘Tory austerity’. Once I became aware of Mr Hoare’s attitude and, seemingly, unashamed activity online, I wrote three more letters. The first; (written and emailed on the 1st August) was to Mr Hoare himself and other than an automatic note of receipt I have received no reply. The second; also sent the same day, also online, went as follows:

Dear Mrs May
I have just written to Simon Hoare MP following his response to a tweet by Jeremy Corbyn last week. Thus:

Dear Mr Hoare
I am writing to express my shock and distress at your response to Jeremy Corbyn MP's tweet (28th July) concerning child food poverty in the summer holidays. I am amazed that you think it acceptable to publicly attack a parliamentary colleague in such a way at a time when online abuse is such a concern. Furthermore, to make a 'joke' about child hunger which is, as Mr Corbyn and others have noted, a 'national disgrace' is unbelievably crass and callous.

Do you not think that an apology to Mr Corbyn, and to all those calling out the issue of food poverty and working (often voluntarily) to alleviate it, is in order?
I look forward to your response.
I hope that you consider Mr Hoare's behaviour to be as distasteful and offensive as I do and would be interested to know what YOUR response might be.

Yours sincerely

Gayle Letherby

I did receive a reply from the Office of No 10 to this. Thus: ‘Your message has been passed to the appropriate body for their attention.’

Increasingly as the days go on I cannot help agree with a friend who when I told them about this said: ‘That will be the don’t give a sh*t department then.’ I’ll write again if I do not hear soon. . . . 

The third letter, with a bit of a local twist, was published in the West Briton yesterday (10th August). (Coincidently, the same day I attended a Labour Party rally (with speakers including Jon Ashworth MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP) here in Cornwall, but more of that another day.) I bought my copy of the local newspaper this morning from the newsagents were my mum worked and above which I lived with my mum and dad (for about five and a half years; I can’t remember exactly) until May 1978. The shop is less than five minutes walk away from where I live now. 

On the 28th July following a report by the Trussell Trust suggesting that millions of children could go hungry during the summer school holidays the Labour Party Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner, and the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, both, quite rightly, called this out as a ‘national disgrace’. One response to this was a tweet to Mr Corbyn from the Conservative MP Simon Hoare (North Dorset) thus: Go on Jezza: do your thing with the loaves and the fishes! Best to stop walking on the water before you do though.

With current concerns around online abuse in mind such a response is, at least, in very poor taste. Thinking locally, given that Cornwall is the second poorest region in the UK (with all of the top eight poorest regions in the UK being poorer than anywhere else in Europe) and child poverty in parts of Cornwall, including Penzance and Redruth and Camborne, are deeply engrained we can only hope that our local MPs, and the Prime Minister, do more than distance themselves from such offensive and callous attitudes and behaviour.

I also bought a Falmouth Packet today. On my Facebook page I’ve previously noted that it wasn’t until several weeks after starting work in the newsagents that my mum stopped asking ‘a packet of what?’ when anyone said ‘Can I have a Packet please?’ On the letters page there is a letter from the local foodbank which includes the following ‘We would like to thank everyone for their continued support for Penryn and Falmouth Foodbank which is still constantly needed by our community.’ This, plus the almost daily reports, shared via twitter, that foodbanks across the UK are urgently in need of supplies reminds me, not that I need it, of the enormity of the issue.

I was lucky. Despite their financial problems my parents had the support of each other and of friends and friends of friends. In comparison to the problems that many individuals and families have today ours where much less significant. As a family our life together was rich and I credit my opportunities and achievements and my values and appreciations to their influence and sacrifices.  Some families and some children are not so lucky. There is more and more evidence that, if things stay the same, not only will child poverty continue (it is currently at its highest since records began), it will increase.

A couple of nights ago I watched the documentary Professor Green: Living in Poverty (see the link below) which focuses on the experience of two families, and on the impact of living in poverty on one child within each family in particular. At the end of the programme Professor Green says ‘It makes me ashamed…’ Me too. 

Wednesday 9 August 2017

#isitok | No News (?) Is Good News. . . . Or Is It...

Over the last month, alongside other writing, I have engaged in a bit of newspaper letter composition and so far have had one jointly authored letter and two sole authored letters published in local papers and one solely authored letter published in The Guardian (last one in the thread here: )

On Saturday (5th August) I wrote to The Independent. They haven't published it so I thought I would here:  

#isitok is the hashtag associated with the Friday night Channel 4 programme The Last Leg which aims to provide humorous and thoughtful commentary on the events of the week. The programme does not shy away from serious issues and in recent weeks and months has focused on the anniversary of Jo Cox MPs’ murder, the Grenfell Tower fire and various terrorist attacks. This week (4th August), however, the show began with the host, Adam Hills, announcing that this week’s big news was that there was no news. But #isitok to speak of a no news week when in the last few days we have learnt that:

-         The increase in the state pension for women from 60-63 (which will rise to 66 by 2020) has boosted Government finances by £5.1bn a year but leaves a million plus women worse off by an average of £32 per week.

-         The president of the Prison Governors Association, prison officers and Opposition politicians all agree that prisons in England and Wales are in crisis due to a ‘toxic mix’ of pressures and the lack of a Governmental response to previous concerns.

-         Increasing numbers of people with disabilities are trapped in their homes as a quarter of people referred by GPs to NHS wheelchair services do not receive the equipment they need whilst 96% of areas are missing the 18 week provision target.

-         Across the UK food banks are running out of provisions as children have no access to free school meals during the summer school holidays.

-         The level of overcrowding on trains is the highest since statistics were first compiled in 2011 and are set to get worse. Such conditions not only make for uncomfortable journeys but also have serious implications for travel safety.

A defining aspect of The Last Leg is the on air engagement with twitter. This is particularly ironic given that, in addition to the mainstream media attention given to the issues listed above (and others), even a cursory engagement with social media highlights the real concerns that many of us have about these significant news items.