Vera Baird DBE KC

Writer, Lecturer, Parliamentary Consultant and Co-Director of Astraea: Gender Justice

Article for North Tyneside BaNTer. Printed 26th April 2018.

After months of hard work, delivering election literature and newsletters in all sorts of weather, polling day is nearly here. Across North Tyneside we have outstanding Labour candidates in every ward, putting across a strong message that a Labour council really does make a difference. You only have to look at the regeneration schemes underway, the improvements in school standards and the extra support to elderly and vulnerable people – such services don’t just happen, they happen because it is Labour beliefs and values held by our councillors that make sure every resident of North Tyneside receives a “fair deal” against a backdrop of Conservative cuts.

The choice is clear on May 3rd – keep taking North Tyneside forward with a Labour Council or backwards with broken local Tory promises. I hope that you will spend the last few days of the campaign urging your friends and family to support their local Labour candidate.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the first women gaining the vote in the United Kingdom – of course female political progress is longer and more interesting than just 1918 and Labour has been at the forefront of many special occasions. In 1907, the Labour Party backed universal suffrage, in the same year the qualification of Women Act allowed widows and unmarried women the right to stand anywhere in local government. We salute those elected, which included Sophia Merivale in Oxford, Edith Sutton in Reading and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson in Aldeburgh – it’s amazing to think that rules were in place to stop single women and widows from partaking in the political process. The political career of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson would never have come about if it wasn’t for the Act – she was an incredible women, she was the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon, co-founded the first hospital staffed by women, became a dean of a British Medical School and the first female doctor of medicine in France – and to top off all those achievements she was also the first female magistrate in Britain. Quite an achievement and I’m delighted that her talent was also recognised in local government. The family talent continues to be recognised, just last week in Parliament Square, a statue to honour Elizabeth’s sister, Millicent Fawcett was unveiled. Millicent campaigned for the suffrage – her statue is the first woman ever there. Today of the eight political parties, four have women leaders and Parliament has the first female Black Rod in 650 years. Right across politics, women are making a difference and I’ve been honoured to celebrate past and current achievements by women as part of the 100th anniversary, both locally and nationally. Let’s make it a real celebration in North Tyneside, by encouraging as many women (and men) to support their Labour candidate. I want to see as many Labour councillors returned to North Tyneside Council as possible on May 3rd, supporting the brilliant elected Mayor, Norma Redfearn.

In relation to policing, a couple of weeks ago it was National Stalking Awareness week and I promoted the great work that is happening here in Northumbria to support victims of this crime. As well as the traditional stalking, many victims endure cyber stalking and are in abusive relationships with partners who are monitoring their behaviour. Some of this monitoring may be very obvious – such as when a victim is forced to hand over their mobile to have their texts or social media posts checked.

Here in Northumbria, we’ve been working hard and are determined to lead the way and provide best service to victims. I secured funding from the Home Office VAWG transformation fund and in January 2018 this allowed Northumbria Police created a domestic abuse cyber stalking and harassment team.

The Northumbria team is designed to help victims – both men and women – specifically of domestic abuse who are being abused and harassed by technological means. Initially operating on an 18 month pilot basis, they will be dealing with cases in the Sunderland area but also providing advice and guidance to officers in South Tyneside where cyber stalking is a feature of the case. The initiative also brings together a rape and domestic violence detective with cyber investigation specialists and we have recruited from our great local organisation Wearside Women in Need, an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor, who supports the victim, making sure everything is done in accordance with what she wants and provides civil assistance. Each morning the police team will check ALL domestic abuse reported incidents since they were last on duty for any elements of cyber stalking. This is to ensure that all potential lines of enquiry are being maximised in investigation. The detectives will use forensic analysis of social media, email and other online communications to identify patterns of behaviour, ultimately helping to safeguard victims from coming to further harm.

My message to victims is do not hesitate to report this kind of crime – Cyber harassment is no less frightening and can be just as threatening as physical stalking. If you know anyone affecting by stalking – please urge them to report it to the police. Specially trained officers are one hand to offer support.

As I sign off, good luck over the next few days. Make every vote count for Labour.