Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Inspired by Angela Sinfield...

I heard Angela’s story on the radio today It might have been just one more story of a working class young person going off the rails and a mother at her wits' end. But it isn’t.

Angela is the mother of a young woman/girl (which?) who, at the tender age of 12, became involved with a group of older boys and men who plied her, along with several of her friends, with gifts, money and finally drugs in exchange for sexual favours amongst the group. Hers is, sadly, a common and unremarkable tale of social exclusion, poverty of opportunity and hierarchy of exploitation. Angela involved Social Services and Barnardo’s in an attempt to rein her daughter back in. She discovered there was a name for what was happening to her daughter – grooming – and that it was happening to young women and girls up and down the country. Between the ages of 12 and 15 Angela lost her daughter to this culture of exploitation, powerless to prosecute her abusers without her daughter’s co-operation.

The story does have a happy ending – Angela’s daughter eventually went to college to make up for the missing years and mother and daughter are now reunited. But this is not necessarily the remarkable part.

Angela anonymously took part in a Channel 4 documentary to raise awareness of the issue: several months later, the BNP used Angela’s (anonymous) evidence to stir up racial hatred in the run-up to the local elections in Keighley, West Yorkshire. Why? Because some of the men involved in her daughter’s exploitation were Asian.

Angela could have kept her anonymity and refused to comment. She was incensed, however, at the far right using her daughter’s experience as a convenient peg on which to hang some knee-jerk racism. Angela took the incredibly brave step of stepping out of the shadow of anonymity and decided to stand in the local elections in opposition to the incumbent BNP councillor. Angela is not an educated, middle class woman. She is a very ordinary, working-class, single parent who simply knew that stirring up racial hatred was wrong. The issue, she argued, was one of criminality and not race. Angela whupped their ass in the election – a swing to labour of 11.4% in an election where the national trend suggested a protest vote against Blair’s war in Iraq. Voter turnout was 58.8% - one of the highest in the country in an area where political apathy is high. And since her incredible victory she has, along with local MP Ann Cryer, affected a change in the law so that ‘hearsay’ evidence can be used to prosecute men who groom and abuse young women.

I don’t know Keighley, but I know the culture. It could just as well be the place where I grew up: a small, industrial town, decimated by the decline of the manufacturing industries; a working-class culture marked by poverty of opportunity and a melee of cultural tensions. I was lucky. I got myself an education. But for all her lack of qualifications and formal political philosophy, Angela is the one who has really made a difference in the world.

I applaud Angela Sinfield for her courage and integrity. I applaud the people of Keighley for having the good sense to vote for her.

1 comment:

Dandelion said...

a young woman/girl (which?)

A woman is an adult female, right? Were you wondering whether a 12-year-old is an adult? That seems strange to me.