I just made a small noise of somewhat inevitable dismay at the news that Ann Cryer, MP for Keighley, has announced her intention to step down at the next election. Ann has been a tireless campaigner for the rights of women in her constituency (as well as the winner of the informal vote amongst members of my former Labour Club on ‘which MP we would most like to be our Nan’); and the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act she worked so hard for will be coming into force in September.
Ann’s work on behalf of Asian women has sometimes been misinterpreted as insensitivity towards her constituents – indeed when she came to speak at the University of York last year she was accused of suggesting that Islam was incompatible with women’s human rights. In fact the misunderstanding here arose because of a clumsily titled speech – ‘The Human Rights of Muslim Women’ was used where ‘The Human Rights of Asian Women, Muslim And Otherwise, In Keighley And Similar Communities’ might have been more appropriate.
The speech itself revealed a depth of knowledge about her constituents, but also suggsted that she perhaps spent more time speaking to those who were vulnerable, those who felt isolated – those who really needed her help, in short – than to ‘community leaders’ who might want to suggest the cultural parameters within which an MP is allowed to operate.
The truth is that when Ann Cryer offended the left with her comments about English tests for immigrants, she wasn’t coming from the Daily-Mail-reading angle of people who worry about what the people in their doctor’s waiting-room are saying. She was coming from a constituency in which an unacceptable number of women – and they almost all are women – were isolated, socially and economically alone, because of their inability to communicate. Of course we should encourage people to continue the languages and traditions of their home country. Of course we should keep printing leaflets in community languages. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t also work to stop vulnerable young people from being brought into the country unprepared for life here, and in many cases against their will.
I’m as PC as they come. I argued with my mother for ten minutes this evening over whether or not it is acceptable to use the phrase ‘a group of Irish’. But the catch-all excuse of ‘cultural differences’ cannot be used to allow inequalities to fester nor human rights to be abused. In the case of Ann Cryer’s most high-profile campaign, against forced marriages, I am right alongside the Moss Side councillor and forced marriage survivor Sameem Ali when she says ‘it’s not a cultural issue, it’s child abuse’.
Perhaps the main reason for the perceived insensitivity of this hard-working MP can be found in a rather cringeworthy phrase I used back in my second paragraph. Spot it? I said ‘Ann’s work on behalf of Asian women’. On behalf of? Eeshk. As anyone well versed in identity politics knows, no-one wants their community to be represented by someone who isn’t a member of it. By the next election Britain will be long overdue a female Asian MP – let’s hope for one for Keighley, and (dare to dream) FROM Keighley. But whatever the sex or race of her successor, Ann Cryer is leaving arse-kicking shoes to fill.