Representation matters. That’s the current buzz behind books, slogans, and political campaigns in 2019. And I stand by it. If our diverse backgrounds are reflected by those in power too, then it’s often perceived that minorities will be understood in their nuance, instead of being viewed through their stereotype. But representation alone is not enough.
Newly appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently created his cabinet, and, wait for it, there are four brown people up front and centre. The U.K. now has a South Asian Home Secretary, a South Asian Chancellor of the Exchequer, a South Asian Development Secretary, a South Asian Chief Secretary, and the list goes on. Diversity within politics is now achieved! We can now move onto other topics, maybe even discuss climate change?
When hearing the news, Radio host Nihal Arthanayake tweeted, “An Asian Home Secretary and Chancellor. Politics aside, for Asian kids up and down the country that is a very visible example of representation”. But maybe we need to ask ourselves who is it ‘representing’ Asians and ‘ethnic minorities’ in Britain?
Born to Gujrati parents from Uganda, Pritti Patel has replaced Home Secretary Sajid Javid. Losing her role as International Development Secretary in 2017 due to holding private meetings in Israel without telling the Foreign Office, Patel joined the Conservative party in her teens. Her inspiration has always been Margaret Thatcher because of her rhetoric for both homes and businesses. Patel also has a record of backing stricter asylum and immigration rules and voted with Theresa May to aid the Windrush scandal, which was inducive in sending many Caribbean citizens ‘back’ and revoking their British citizenship.
She is now going to be in charge of immigration, crime policing, prisons, and probations. As someone who is pro-Brexit and determined to follow through with Johnson’s needs, Patel says her plans for immigration include close selection, “In future, we will decide who we give preference to, so we can ensure we are able to attract the most talented and skilled from other parts of the world”.
Rochdale-born and Bristol-bred Sajid Javid has moved into the role of Chancellor of Exchequer, meaning Javid is now to look after all economic and financial matters. Infamous for removing Shamima Begum’s citizenship this year, Javid similarly has a history of othering Muslim communities in an attempt to make them ‘better assimilate’ into British society.
As someone who on paper is similar to both Patel and Javid (South Asian heritage, Muslim and working-class upbringing, university-educated, and even a history of interracial relationships) seeing these fellow desi faces be granted the highest of seats in parliament didn’t make me scream out with joy nor did it give me hope for the generation growing up, because frankly, it all seems hollow.
In response to Nihal Arthanayake’s tweet and the many others applauding this ‘diverse’ cabinet, this is only a visible depiction of diversity, it is not diverse by school of thought, class backgrounds and where politicians lie on the side of policies. Doesn’t representation and diversity only work when we’re showcasing a breadth of ideas, of people and their beliefs, instead of acting like sheep in wolf’s clothing?
If the bar is we need more ethnic faces in politics, sure, that alone with elitism, nepotism and schooling systems systematically makes it more difficult for brown and black folks to enter politics, never mind those who are from faiths and backgrounds that are just about tolerated by the government. But in 2019, I’m not going to applaud you for being South Asian and within the political system claiming to be ‘for me’. My bar isn’t so low, and neither should yours be.
For our parents, grandparents and so forth, the idea ‘see to be’ may have worked as a point of aspiration for their children to climb up to, but as second and third generation British Asians settle, our ideas surrounding representation needs to be refreshed. In times of an alt-right rendition and rise of Islamophobia, our needs have expanded.
Both Patel and Javid utilise their tokenism for their personal benefit. This British Asian heritage works as a duality, leveraging to the South Asian communities while showing Tories can also be inclusive (as Labour has always had a larger ethnic minority presence) and simultaneously making sure the ladder is pulled back up, only for them to look down on those who are still ostracized because ‘Hey! If I can do it, so can you!’
In the past, Patel has said she is ‘British first’ and finds the term Black and Minority Ethnicity (BME) offensive. Javid has made it public that he fits into British society by drinking alcohol (his example), placing the blame onto Muslim communities for terrorism instead of questioning the root of why homegrown terrorism is occurring, and best of all, saying he is doing it for these communities.
I’m not asking for politicians to hold onto their roots if they do not feel the need to nor do I want anyone to feel as though there is only one way to be South Asian and in politics. However, what I am asking for when seeking representation in politics are people who are working with our ethnic minority communities instead of against them. Politicians that don’t equate assimilation to deleting their heritage just like their user history. Individuals that don’t distinguish being successful in politics with being South Asian or Muslim and won’t stay silent in the face of racist proceedings. Representatives that are now ready to put new systems into place.
Boris Johnson may continue to assemble a diverse cabinet, maybe even throw in a politician whose background may up the ‘ethnic card’ but if we don’t have politicians who work for us, as a community and country, we’ve already lost.
Amid growing restrictions of women’s rights policies in Western democracies, moves made by ‘women’s rights’ organisations to shut down strip and lap dancing clubs around the U.K. are exposing the dangers of allowing exclusionary campaigns to influence local government policy. Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEV) licensing legislation differs throughout the U.K., but many local authorities are pressured by anti-stripping campaigns (under the general title of SWEFT, sex worker exclusionary radical feminism) to give way to the Nordic Model.
This model, some feminists argue, protects women from violence and poverty by criminalising those purchasing sex, rather than sex workers, and banning strip clubs allegedly increasing demand for this. Yet, in Ireland, the introduction of Nordic-style legislation with the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 has since seen increased crime and abuse reported by users of sex worker safety app, UglyMugs.ie, and the recent criminalisation of two vulnerable migrant female sex workers in Kildare, who were sentenced to nine months in prison. Many are quick to report on such matters as the latest schism in modern feminist thought, with an unbridled scepticism reserved for strippers’ views and lived experiences.
Comparatively few, however, seem as concerned with the hypocritical ethos of influential anti-sex work campaigners, as their refusal to engage with or ever set foot inside their workplaces compounds a willingness to overlook the autonomy and safety of dancers. One such group, Not Buying It, was revealed to have paid for male private investigators to enter Sheffield’s Spearmint Rhino and film dancers working semi or fully nude without their knowledge earlier this year. Apparently left with “no choice” but to resort to “drastic measures” to get the club’s SEV license revoked, Not Buying It, with Women’s Equality Party (WEP) Sheffield branch leader, Charlotte Mead, presented this to Sheffield City Council as evidence that a Nordic style ‘nil-cap’ policy on SEVs be should enforced.
Although the WEP has since declared it was not part of the sting, it nevertheless teamed up with the campaign to present footage drawing parallels to revenge porn as a misogynistic method used to intimidate, harass, and manipulate women. The argument that such tactics have any place in a feminist struggle against patriarchal oppression is an undoubtedly alarming one. A feminist trade-union representing sex workers alongside migrant, low-paid, and vulnerable workers, United Voices of the World, attested to this in its statement aligning the ‘harmful’ actions to the WEP’s “misguided campaign to abolish strip clubs for the imagined benefit of the women involved”.
Teela Sanders, Professor of Criminology at the University of Leicester and researcher on stripping and sex work, asserts that “other feminists doing this to women […] is as damaging as the misogynist policies found in other labour environments that the women’s movement has been working so hard against”. In turn, Sanders locates the “harmful speech, influence and actions by so-called women’s organisations” as reflecting a wider trend: “We see across the globe the stripping back of rights for women, most recently in the abortion laws in the U.S. What we see in the U.K. is feminist organisations attacking other women for the work they choose, under a range of circumstances and real-life options, to make a living from”.
Those campaigning for strip and lap dancing club closures insist strippers are treated solely as ‘sex objects’, that the choice of women to work in SEVs is mere ‘myth’ or illusion, and that these women are either victims or in denial of their circumstance. This “cowardly” approach, declares Sanders, whereby “sex workers, marginalised, stigmatised and sometimes vulnerable, are denied platforms to rebut claims of victimhood which many do not recognise as their experience”.
In Scotland, where the government considers stripping and lap dancing forms of ‘commercial sexual exploitation’, calls for a Scottish Model that criminalises sex work clients could gain greater influence over local legislation. In response to Glasgow City Council’s current consultation on SEV licensing, GMB Scotland deemed the process an “opportunity” for female strippers and sex workers to be heard by “a political establishment that, so far, has tried to exclude them from the conversation”. GMB Scotland Organiser, Rhea Wolfson, stresses that “the council must realise what is at stake here: hundreds of jobs in Glasgow could potentially be lost. The real consequences of ending club licences would be that workers no longer have access to their trade union and the industry would continue unregulated and underground”.
The refusal to listen to, engage with, or empower the legitimate concerns of strippers and lap dancers exposes the inherent hypocrisy, harm, and hierarchical control of anti-sex work campaigners. As the United Voices of the World (UVW) Union emphasises that “dancers are best placed to advocate for their own rights and safety at work” and GMB Scotland supports “the regulation of clubs with workers’ safety at the core of any regulatory scheme”, better ways to protect strippers are clearly to listen, respect, and support their own, self-led campaigns for workplace equality.
Indeed, often lost in a surge of dogmatic, sensationalised stances on the morality of sex work are solid suggestions as to how regulation could safeguard strippers from the precarity of working as self-employed while sometimes being expected to pay steep house fees to perform at their club of choice. Banning clubs completely limits any opportunity for the decriminalisation of sex work to be guided by strippers and their unions, shaped by experience, and vested in the interest of protecting dancers’ employment rights, job security, and safety above all else.