I've always enjoyed reading stuff by Sarfraz Manzoor, the some time Guardian/ Observer columnist - it's quite bizarre reading the memoirs of someone who went to the same Sixth Form College as you, got the same bus to town (the number 6), hung out in the same coffee shop (Greenfields, although in my case 'hanging out' meant working there, with my nan. And it was called the Golden Egg in my day).
He's got an interesting piece on the Guardian's Comment is Free site at the moment. I kind of know what he's saying, but I think Bochi and theloonyfromCatford hit the nail on the head.
Speaking of lovable Tories, here's an interesting extract from a recent Westminster Hall debate on Reconstructing Afghanistan. Interesting in that many people believe Hansard is a verbatim report of what is said in a debate. It's not: our incoherent outpourings are cleaned up, clarified, and generally reconstructed until they are fit for human consumption.
Robert Smith (Lib Dem): I also want to reinforce the issue of the status of women. Failing to engage the women of Afghanistan means denying half the resource of the country to its development and its future. We saw many positive things in that context. We visited the microfinance initiative in Kabul and saw women entrepreneurs. Women got the microfinance loans, because they could be trusted to repay them. The men were far too unreliable a business investment.
Nicholas Soames Nonsense
Robert Smith: Mr. Soames says from a sedentary position, "Oh, balls," but that was the practical reality on the ground that was discovered.
Tobias Ellwood I am not sure he said that.
Robert Smith Perhaps he did not; it was something to that effect.
Martyn Jones (the Chairman) Order. The hon. Gentleman must have misheard.
Robert Smith I must have misheard him, yes.
I was there for this debate. Robert Smith didn't mishear (and he knows he didn't). And what he was saying has been the case in every developing country I've visited. Take the leading microfinance institution Grameen Bank, for example; 97% of its customers are women and they're very reluctant to lend to men.
I've questioned this on my visits, and have been fascinated as to the impact it must have on gender relations - for example, I met a woman in Bangladesh who had started off with a small loan, bought some chickens, ended up buying a taxi, then some land, and proudly showed me the house she had built for her family - and then the one she had built for her son, and then the one she had built for her daughter. I asked what her husband thought about her being the breadwinner. Her response was a mixture of 'who knows' and 'who cares'!