Thursday, 17 December 2009

I have sampled my first Twitter party; and what a fantastic experience it was.  Invited by Sarah Brown to No 10 Downing Street, I mingled with individuals and organisations, all as surprised as I was at being invited, whom the Prime Minister’s wife follows on Twitter.  Sarah hosted this party to raise the profile of Million Mothers campaign, which raises awareness of the many women across the world who still die in pregnancy and childbirth.  Highlighting this issue must eventually lead to better care – one day.

As I went upstairs in No 10 to that event the Prime Minister himself came down the same stairs exhorting me to “enjoy the party”. That party I did enjoy, but I certainly did not enjoy the party in Copenhagen he is attending right now. In fact, the WI cut short its stay in the Danish capital because it could not gain access to the Bella Conference Centre to attend the UN climate change talks. Many hundreds of people, no, thousands, were in the same position  and the organisation of the whole event left a lot be desired.  To have the right cards in one’s possession to allow entry, entry first had to be gained.  Once in the centre, after waiting for more than five and a half hours in the freezing cold, and with no explanation as to why, (no facilities either!) the collection point for said cards was closed.  Hence no opportunity to collect them before our proposed 9.30am meeting the next morning with Joan Ruddock MP. The collection point would open at 10.00am!

I could go on, but discourse at this stage will not change a disastrous situation. Even though we were in telephone contact with relevant people inside the Centre they could do nothing to change the entry criterion. So the whole WI delegation – the Head of the Delegation (me) and the WI’s climate change campaigns officer (Emily) – decided to cut its losses and return to England, complete with head colds brewing and looking forward to a proper meal.

Now, from a warmer distance the whole experience was as bad as it felt at the time. I am completely confident that the WI would have done a much better job of organization. But the real point is that by not even being allowed into the conference, ordinary women’s voices were ignored and the role of women was undermined. We were left feeling humiliated at being ignored along with the many other NGOs there and annoyed at the cost and CO2 emissions perpetrated by the thousands who, like the WI, did not gain entry to the most important conference in a long time for the future of this planet. Lets hope that this will not be an opportunity missed. 

Thursday, 10 December 2009


WI members from around the country attended The Wave event in London on Saturday 5 December – I asked Joy Thompson, a fellow NFWI Board member, to give her account of her first ever march.

The Wave, London, December 5th 2009 – unbelievably my first but hopefully not last, protest march – and what’s more over 40,000 others agreed and joined me including a wonderful band of WI supporters. I say supporters because we had daughters, children, and young men with us – mum or gran had obviously put out the three line whip!

What a great day – how exciting it was to see members pouring in from all over the UK, some coming down on special buses and trains, others making their own way into central London. After our pre-event in the Mayfair library gave us the opportunity to meet with other WI members who had come from round the country, we set off towards Grosvenor Square to gather with the thousands of others who had congregated there.

Every side of Grosvenor Square was packed with people, virtually all in varying shades of blue, including faces and hands – our blue Marigolds making it difficult to miss the WI contingent!

Along with hundreds of other organisations hoisting aloft banners and carrying placards, we set off towards Parliament through the ‘posher’ areas of London (despite the nightingales I’d never been to Berkeley Square!), past the Connaught Hotel, Claridges, the Ritz and Fortnum & Mason, down Regent Street to Westminster where we encircled the Houses of Parliament over Lambeth and Westminster Bridges ready for The Wave at 3.00pm. There were so many of us that we had to stop between the bridges as it wasn’t safe to let any more through.

What an amazing experience, no trouble at all (as far as I could see), support from passers by, redundant policemen lining the route and smiling us through, fantastic dragons, pandas, costumes and an incredible atmosphere from start to finish. More importantly, the paramount feeling that we were all there to publicise a vital cause and encourage the governments of the world to come together at last to reach viable decisions that will affect all our futures but especially those of our children and their children. Now let’s see exactly what they can come up with at Copenhagen – and pray that it is something substantial that will make a difference.