Thursday, May 31, 2007

Janipher Maseko - Good News at Last

Thankfully common sense has prevailed and Janipher and the babies are to be released.

I know that many of you have written to the authorities to complain about the appalling way in which she has been treated and I have been asked to pass on her heartfelt gratitude.

She is obviously very relieved. The road ahead is not going to be easy for her but at least she is now out of danger.

The thing that really made me cry was hearing that she'd said that she'd been delighted to be able to tell the doctor that the babies didn't need Malaria jabs after all.

How could we have put such a vulnerable family under such a threat?

There clearly needs to be an independent enquiry into Janipher's specific case, but the chilling thing is that she is not alone. Although the Government promised last year not to separate breastfeeding mothers and their babies, that disgusting practice still goes on. We have enough evidence about the complex interactions between mother and baby on every level, physiological and emotional, to know that to do so is extremely traumatic for both. The only time it should ever be allowed is if there is a clear risk to the baby's safety.

John Hemming has been raising the issue of the high number of inappropriate adoptions from care, particularly in England for some time. I have to confess that I hadn't taken him that seriously until now. Have a look at some of the information on his blog.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Update on Janipher Maseko

As you will see from the comments to my earlier post - thanks, Morgan and Helen - separate removal orders have now been issued for the children. This obviously doesn't make everything all right. Imagine if you had given birth just over a month ago and you were suddenly to be taken away from your whole life and put back to a country that had brought you nothing but fear and tragedy, where you had no family, nowhere to call home, no means of providing for yourself and your two small children. That would be bad enough if you were in good health, but if you were ill, traumatised and depressed, how much worse would it be?

Is this an appropriate way for a civilised country to act?

Helen is right that there needs to be a proper enquiry into the way in which she has been treated by Hillingdon Social Services, the Borders and Immigration Agency and SERCO. I have been assured that questions relating to her case will be raised in Parliament and I know that Lord Avebury has done some already. Obviously Janipher's evidence to that enquiry is critical.

Thank you to everyone who has let me know they have written to Liam Byrne about this. Janipher's plight has affected many people who don't normally get involved in politics and has opened many eyes to the disgraceful injustices of which Janipher is, sadly, just one example.

This battle is not over yet, so please continue to spread her story so that more can be aware of her situation.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Stop Removal of Janipher Maseko, 18 year old breastfeeding mother

Breastfeeding supporter colleagues of mine have been involved in helping Janipher Maseko, an 18 year old Ugandan woman who is currently being held in Yarls Wood Immigration Detention Centre. She has two babies, aged 15 months and 4 weeks. The tiny baby is being breastfed. She has been told that she will be removed from the UK without her children on Friday 1st June.

Janipher sought asylum as an unaccompanied minor after coming to this country as an orphan and after being raped in Uganda. Her asylum claim had been closed in March 2007 when she was heavily pregnant. Hillingdon Social Services, responsible for her at the time, immediately stopped all support and evicted her and her baby daughter. Staff at Hillingdon Hospital had to press Social Services to rehouse her. But at the end of April, a week after her son was born, she was evicted her again and threw away all her belongings. Ms Maseko tried to reach a friend in Brighton and was sleeping rough in Crawley when passers-by found her and called the police. Sussex Social Services put her babies into foster care even though she was breastfeeding her infant son and there was no cause to doubt her fitness and eagerness to care for her children - Ms Maseko needed shelter, money and healthcare. No arrangements were made to help her keep in touch with her children. Still bleeding after childbirth and with engorged breasts, Ms Maseko was held in a cell for four days without a shower or change of clothes.

When my colleagues went to see her, they were refused permission to give her an electric breast pump, the most efficient way of maintaining lactation and also of relieving the intense discomfort from the engorgment she was suffering and they were only able to get a manual pump to her after some discussion.

The children were reunited with her after the intervention of advocates on her behalf including the Black Women's Rape Action Project.

I am horrified at such brutal and inhuman treatment of this young mother and her children. How can it be justified to deport a mother to a country where she has fled rape and violence and has no family to help her and leave her babies here? How can a supposedly civilised government treat human beings in this way?

She is getting legal and practical help, but the more people who can raise awareness of her plight over the next few days the better.

Below are some ways in which you can to support Janipher and ensure she and her children can build their lives in the UK:

1. Urge that Ms Maseko and her children be immediately released, housed, supported and granted asylum, and that there be a prompt independent investigation into her treatment by all those in authority who were responsible for her care. Fax or email your letter to:· Liam Byrne MP, Minister of State for Immigration, Nationality and Citizenship, Fax: 020 7035 4745 ·

Meg Munn MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Women and Equality)Fax: 020 7944 5891·

Beverley Hughes MP, Minister for Children, Young People & FamiliesFax:020 7219 2961 ·

Patricia Hewitt MP, Secretary of State for Health, Fax: 020 7210·

Brian Pollett, Head of Detention Services, ·

Victoria Jones, Director of Yarl's Wood, Fax: 01234 821152

2. Alert your networks, the press and other media.

3. Write to your MP as a concerned constituent asking her/him to raise it in Parliament.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Harry and Iraq

I was so annoyed that they even considered sending Harry to Iraq in the first place. It was a bit of a no brainer that he would attract the attention of insurgents and put not just to himself, but those whom he served with, in even greater danger.

If I were the mother of a soldier, which I suspect I will never be, given Anna's propensity against violence and the killing of even animals to eat, I would have been furious if my beloved child had been put in an even more dangerous situation by the unhappy accident of being out there at the same time as a member of the British Royal Family.

It worries me that the addened danger was not recognised by the Armed Forces until this week.

Parliamentary Disgrace

I am extremely proud that my party has stood firm against David MacLean's Bill on Freedom of Information. Unfortunately, even their expert applications of Parliamentary procedure (David Heath mentioning buckets left in corridors as a health and safety hazard made me laugh out loud) were not enough to win the day today.

It looks like this reactionary measure might become law as Labour and the Tories have made a bit of an unholy alliance in its support. I can only hope for a big enough public outcry to make them think better of their support for this ill considered measure.

Everybody needs good Neighbours

I don't often watch Neighbours these days, but I used to be a bit of an addict. Who can forget the days of Scott, Charlene, Daphne, Des, Henry, Bronwyn, Madge and Harold?

I'm quite sad to see that it's leaving the BBC. I'm not about to argue for £300 million to be spent from the public purse to retain it, but I'm sure it compares favourably to the extortionate daylight robbery football tv rights have become. I can't find what the BBC paid for its football rights, but I do know that Sky paid more than a cool billion for their's.

How come the boys get their sports on the taxpayer, but a national institution like Neighbours doesn't matter?:-)

Good Luck, Angela

I am absolutely thrilled to bits for Angela Constance. I fell pregnant unexpectedly as I was focussed on an approaching election campaign (in my case the 1999 Euro election), and there's no greater feeling in the world. I have to admire her for getting through the recent election so serenely - I felt so sick during my pregnancy and the tiredness was something else. I wish Angela and her husband all the very best. I hope they enjoy this special time - the last for just them - and enjoy the adjustment to parenthood. It's the best thing you will ever do, and, nearly 8 years on, I can promise that it still gets better every day, even when you think it can't get any more fantastic.

I can only hope that the Labour opposition will act with sensitivity when it comes to Angela's maternity leave. The sensible thing for them to do, if they have the slightest commitment to equality, would be for them to immediately offer a pairing arrangment so that Angela would not have to rush back to Parliament prematurely and is able to take as much time as she needs and wants in those precious early days. Frankly, I don't care that it was the SNP who stopped the last pairing arrangement, in case anyone wants to comment to that effect. Now is what matters.

Mayor banned from breastfeeding her baby

I was quite speechless after reading this article outlining the appalling treatment of the Mayor of Trafford.

Imagine writing to an elected official telling them they shouldn't wear the mayoral chain when looking after their child - like who would? And that their child shouldn't travel in the official car.

No wonder there are so few women in politics.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A New Dawn?

Ok, I'm a big softie. I admit it. My heart wasn't hard enough to remain unmoved as a non Labour First Minister was sworn in. I haven't forgiven him for what he needlessly did to my very good friend Nora Radcliffe but the recent election has shown that Scotland can turn away from Labour.

The success of this Government or otherwise will depend on its ability to listen, negotiate and work with the Parliament. In some ways, a minority Government could lead us to the sort of non tribal politics I've been wanting for, well, all of my life. I want to see people working together for the good of the country. It looks already as if Labour are going to be very bitter and twisted in opposition. If that's the case, I hope they get what they deserve at the polls in the future.

To succeed as a minority will require skills, maturity and a sense of responsiblity that I have yet to see in the SNP. Most of them haven't run so much as a bath in their entire lives, but there are some good people in their midst. In addition, the Lib Dems have pledged to be constructive in opposition, so it is possible that some very good policies for Scotland could be implemented in the next 4 years.

If they succeed, in a few years' time, Labour could be the 3rd or 4th party in Scottish politics. How good would that be?

The Hardest Working Man in Scotland

I don't think there are many nicer people in politics than John Swinney. He is a very clever man, too. I wasn't aware that amongst his many talents was an absence of the need to sleep.

Thatcher was bad enough, needing only 4 or 5 hours, but Swinney will simply not have time for such luxuries as napping as he gets to grip with his massive workload.

His new ministry covers everything from enterprise to Scottish Water to e-governance to planning. Given the amount of casework one relatively small constituency generates on the latter two issues, I hardly think that one Cabinet Minister can effectively manage all of this.

Time will tell, of course. I actually suspect, though, that Swinney is the sort who would work himself into the ground through dedication and diligence. I tend to think that work-life balance is important (all around me will guffaw, I'm sure, but there are limit). You work more effectively if you have time to relax away from the office.

The other Cabinet Ministers also have full portfolios. I do hope the new Government has not saved a few quid only to compromise the health and lives of its members. The work ethic is good to a point....................

How you know it's Breastfeeding Awareness Week

You can always tell when it's Breastfeeding Awareness Week - instead of positive reports of difficulties overcome and harmonious mothers and babies, the media is full of reports about how painful it can be and, well, formula's ok, isn't it?

This, unfortunately, completely misses the point. In cultures where breastfeeding is the norm, problems are virtually unheard of, partly because new mothers are going to be surrounded by people who have breastfed or are breastfeeding their babies who can recognise and put right the first signs of trouble.

I think it is criminal that mothers and babies are being denied the benefits of a breastfeeding relationship simply because they don't have access to accurate information and support. Of those who give up in the first 6 weeks, 90% would have preferred to continue according to English Dept of Health figures.

It was disappointing that breastfeeding rates in Scotland are holding their own but not increaasing substantially, except in Edinburgh, where they increased by 6%. I suspect that this is partly down to the work of Karla Napier, the Infant Feeding Adviser at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. She is one of the UK's breastfeeding experts and has done much to ensure that mothers have the sort of professional information and support they need. She has a lovely, gentle, patient manner which inspires both the mothers she works with and the professionals and lay counsellors she has trained.

I have been disappointed on occasions to find out that I, as a lay breastfeeding counsellor, know much more than trained health professionals in the basics of breastfeeding management. I have seen mums and babies in a terrible mess simply because a health professional has not recognised a glaringly obvious problem or suggested an appropriate solution. A lot of the time, the difference between successful feeding and not is down to a tiny bit of fine tuning - a tiny fraction of an inch in adjustment of a position, or feeding more frequently - or simply just slowing down, relaxing and enjoying the baby. Having said that, there are many health professionals who do a magnificent job and give mothers wise counsel - it's important that every woman who wants to breastfeed can access the support she needs.

After all, if someone had invented a living substance which adapted to circumstance, preventing diseases, protecting from many serious health conditions and providing babies with the optimum physical and emotional start in life, they would charge a fortune for it.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Media Superstardom dawns

Well, not quite, but I did join the likes of Kylie, Britney and Kate Moss on the pages of the Sun (Scottish edition) today.

I was asked as a Lib Dem supporter to give my take on Blair going so took the opportunity to lambast him on the war in Iraq and to remind everyone that Gordon Brown paid for it as well as all the other Labour disasters.

It was quite surreal - one minute talking to the journalist on my mobile phone and the next a photographer turned up at my house to take a photo. The house was a tip as well - its usual post election guddle. They won't be interviewing me for housewife of the year, that's for sure. Maybe I should watch out in case Kim and Aggie turn up:-)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bye, Blair

I remember lying in bed watching Tony Blair walk into Downing Street, all smiles and hopes for the future. The crowds looked really happy and optimistic that things were really going to change. I felt absolutely nothing. I wasn't as elated as I should have been given that the Tories had finally been beaten.

I never really thought he would deliver. You can't really trust someone who can abandon their core philosophy the way he did just for electoral gain. It's ok to change your views, but the New Labour phenomenon simply seemed to operate in a philosophical vacuum. They floated this way and that, dependent on the views of focus groups, rather than their core beliefs.

The only time I have ever had a positive emotional reaction to anything he said was the day Diana died. He seemed to sum up the shock felt by everybody.

Whatever good things he has done, and there have been some - improved maternity leave, civil partnership legislation, Northern Ireland to name a few, I can't forgive him for leading us into the illegal war in Iraq. He has damaged Britain's credibility so badly that it will take us decades to recover.

We needn't think that things will change with his departure, either. Everything Labour has done, including Iraq, ineffective and expensive ID cards, and the tax credit fiasco, has been bankrolled by Gordon Brown.

I felt nothing at Blair's arrival and I don't feel that we are on the dawn of a new, brighter, future with his departure.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Dunfermline Delight

It was a great moment, in an otherwise very sad evening, to witness the election of Jim Tolson as the MSP for Dunfermline West. It made the long hours, the exhaustion, the sheer slog, all worthwhile. We had a fantastic team ably managed by Willie Rennie, Tony Martin and Elspeth Finlay. The amount of work everybody put in was phenomenal.

The icing on the cake came the following afternoon when 8 councillors were elected across Willie Rennie's constituency.

We now have representatives at all levels, including Elspeth Attwooll as MEP, to deliver for the people of Dunfermline and West Fife.

It's a fabulous team to be part of, even just as a minion.

E-Counting Misery

I can't stand e-counting. Thursday night was as close to torture as I'd ever come. We were all gathered at the Fife Institute with no real idea what was going on as the screens did not update regularly, and stayed the same for several hours. First we were ahead, then we weren't, then we were again - and we had no idea which boxes still had to be counted so we knew if our best areas had been done. This is a system which sure knows how to mess with your head.

Usually at a count, there is plenty to do as you are doing your box counts and then watching out that the votes are being counted correctly. We ended up unable to take the uncertainty and went and huddled round a tv screen to take in what was going on nationally - where we found the Tories who had brought the wine with them, but they didn't offer us any!

Anyway, all was well in the end and we were thrilled to see Jim Tolson elected as MSP at around 4 am.

Deal or No Deal?

I am pretty well disposed to the idea of talking to the SNP. Apart from the obvious disagreement on independence, we do have some similar ideas on policy and could probably form a stable government which would be good for Scotland.

However, having said repeatedly since way before the start of the election that we would not support a referendum on independence, we can't really go back on that now. To do so would be a betrayal of our commitment to the people who voted for us and would make us look like we had no integrity whatsoever. There might be an argument for changing our position if there had been a majority within the Parliament for such a referendum, but there isn't.

Ultimately it is for Alex Salmond to decide whether the most important issue is pursuing a policy that most people don't care about or providing Scotland with stable and responsible government.

On the campaign trail, not one single person raised the issue of a referendum as being of any importance to them. They were more concerned about health, education and crime. The Party had very kindly provided me with lots of facts about why a referendum would not be a good idea and not once did I have to use them. At the major hustings meetings, the subject was not even raised.

The Scotsman poll today shows that a referendum with the SNP's chosen wording would be lost anyway. If Mr Salmond and his colleagues want to show themselves as responsible leaders, they should recognise this, forget the idea for now and get on with the business of governing the country.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Help Stop Rene being deported tomorrow

Can I urge everyone reading this to please go
to to sign a petition against the deportation tomorrow of Rene Murabukirwa. Full story is in the Evening News

It seems extremely unfair to deport someone who has friends and fiancee and who has made their life here for 11 years and been an active part of the community.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Labour's negative campaign turns people off

I might disagree with Alex Salmond on independence, but I'm sure he's not a bad man. A bit indecisive about what Parliament he wants to be in and which constituency he wants to represent, and his party's policies do stray into fiscal illiteracy a fair bit of the time, but that hardly puts him in the same league as Beelzebub or King Herod or the Daleks. However, if you listened to anything coming from Labour, or watched their PEB tonight, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Nationalists would be at your door claiming your firstborn for breakfast if they win on Thursday.

Labour actively seems to be trying to lose this election. They have barely uttered a positive word and generally seem tired and uncaring. The only thing that gets them going is having a go at their opponents. That, alone, makes them unfit to govern and they deserve to lose heavily on Thursday. And they will, in places like Edinburgh and Dunfermline. They will also lose control of councils in many if not all of their heartlands.

To be fair, the Nats are not always renowned for being positive and people are pretty sick of this style of politics. They want to hear about positive attempts to make things better and that's why Nicol Stephen and his clear, bright vision of the way he wants to transform Scotland, to make us a cleaner, fitter, happier nation, will do better than expected on Thursday.


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