Johnson 'Trumps Himself Out of a Political Future'

Simon Sapper   |   April 24, 2016    6:09 PM ET

I've never liked his politics, but I've always thought Boris Johnson had a high level of native wit and no little intelligence. His attacks on Barack Obama's intervention in the Euro Referendum debate seem to suggest both have "gone south".

This seems to be having been a building crescendo over the past week. The US position is "paradoxical". "Boris Rage at "Ridiculous, Weird Obama" blasted the Mail on Sunday on its front page. It is "hypocritical" says Johnson because the President wants the UK to give up sovereignty, something inconceivable in the US, and, because of his part-Kenyan heritage, Obama has a historic dislike of the British empire - a remark which caused outrage (though more for it's arguable racism than it's stupidity). All things considered "for the US it is do as I say not do as I do"

For a clever man, Johnson seems to have lost the plot - irrespective of how/if you intend to vote on 23 June.

Put simply, Boris has his history wrong. Yes, it is hard to imagine the US "giving up sovereignty" but this is the wrong standpoint. US states (50 of them) have already done what Johnson says the US would not. They formed the USA. They fought an exceptionally bloody (and in Europe, rather overshadowed) civil war to test the boundary between state and supra-state powers. It is still a big issue - look at the apparent contradiction between the US constitution and discrimination against the transgender community in North Carolina. Look how hard it is to move on health care or gun control. But there is an overarching structure that each state has ceded power to. Goodness, the USA even has a common currency.

With justification therefore, Obama can offer a view on the UK/EU relationship from a nation that has eaten the pie, worn the t-shirt, and still arguing about the self-same issues.

And of course, Britain likes Barack. Most of know what a big deal a black President is given the level of racism still in the US. He has huge credibility and charisma.

And although countries naturally don't like others poking their noses into their business, he is entitled to a view: "They are voicing an opinion about what the United States is going to do; I figured you might want to hear from the president of the United States what I think the United States is going to do"

Let's not be dewy-eyed about the notion of a US foreign policy free of self-interest. But we all have a right to be treated with more respect than we are currently getting in the EU debate. In the wise words of eminent newspaper man Stig Abell, Johnson has just "trumped himself out of a political future"

Paul Waugh   |   April 24, 2016   12:24 PM ET

Boris Johnson faced further embarrassment over his ‘part-Kenyan’ attack on Barack Obama after even Nigel Farage distanced himself from the remarks.

The UKIP leader told SkyNews that he didn’t disagree with the Mayor of London, but said it had been a mistake to “be seen to be attacking the man and not the ball” on the issue of Brexit.

The US President gave an unceremonious slapdown to Johnson on Friday over his suggestion that he had an “ancestral dislike of the British Empire” because of his Kenyan father.

Today - just days after himself claiming Obama had a ‘grudge’ against Britain thanks to his Kenyan roots - Farage suggested that the Mayor of London had gone too far.

“I’m not saying Boris was wrong, but if you’re seen to be attacking the man and not the ball then that’s not where we need to be,” he told Sky’s Murnaghan programme.

Presenter Dermot Murnaghan instantly challenged him, saying “but you’ve done it”. Farage replied: “I’ve been saying it for some years…I’ve said for some time that Barack Obama is not a pro-British President…”

The reaction on Twitter was swift.

And some couldn't resist pointing out the time when Boris had literally tackled the man not the ball, in a England v Germany charity football match.

Johnson sparked a vociferous backlash on Friday when he used an article in the Sun newspaper to suggest that the US President was opposed to Brexit - and had removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the White House - because he had an ‘ancestral’ loathing of the British Empire.

Yet on the BBC’s World at One programme that same day, the UKIP leader had gone even further, declaring: “I think Obama, because of his grandfather and Kenya and colonisation, I think Obama bears a bit of a grudge against this country”.

Former Tory Cabinet minister and leading Vote Leave campaigner Liam Fox also distanced himself from Boris's reference to Obama's Kenyan roots.

"All through the debate I've said we need to stick to the issues," he told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, when asked .

"We should not be bothering about what personalities are involved nor personalising it, because that risks diverting away from the main issues."

Chuka Umunna, who also appeared on Sky News, widened out the criticism of Boris to declare that he had now shown that he was ‘unfit’ to ever become Prime Minister.

The former Shadow Business Secretary said that the Mayor’s remarks about Obama’s Kenyan heritage were ‘disgraceful and embarrassing’.

Umunna said: “This [Eu referendum] campaign has exposed Boris Johnson…[he’s] simply not fit to hold the office he aspires to, which is Prime Minister of our country. And of course there’s going to be a change of Prime Minister before the general election.

“This kind of divisive rhetoric is simply indefensible.

“I’m part-Nigerian. Nigeria was a former colony of the UK. I don’t think colonialisation is terribly defensible…[to suggest] somehow to hold that view means you love Britain less… that was essentially the suggestion in what Boris Johnson said.

“Which I think a whole swath of Britain’s diaspora communities, people who have come to settle here, people who have got a background like mine, find deeply offensive.”

Obama refused to name Boris in his response on Friday, simply saying that he had replaced the Churchill bust with one of Martin Luther King because it seemed ‘appropriate’ to do so as the first ever African-American President.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was in no doubt what had motivated the remarks

On Saturday, Johnson appeared to backtrack on his remarks.  Asked if he had intended to imply Mr Obama was anti-British, he replied: 'Not at all, not at all….I think obviously people will make of the article what they want.

“I'm a big fan of Barack Obama - I was one of the first people to come out in favour of him ages ago.

'But I think there's a weird paradox when the President of the Unites States, a country that would never dream of sharing its sovereignty over anything, instructs or urges us politely to get more embedded in the EU, which is already making 60% of our laws.”

Jack Sommers   |   April 23, 2016    4:18 PM ET

Read More: uk news, Barack Obama

This is the moment a student came out as transgender in front of Barack Obama at his town hall event.

During the Q&A session earlier on Saturday, Maria Munir, stood up to say they did not identify with a binary gender, before they had told their parents.

"I'm about to do something terrifying which is come out to to you," the 20-year-old said, apologising for getting "emotional" and trying not to cry as the crowd applauded.

"It means that I don't fit because I'm from a Pakistani-Muslim background which inevitably has complications .. I wish that yourself and David Cameron would take us seriously as transgender people."

Maria, a third year politics with international relations student at University of York, added that the Equality Act offered no protection from discrimination to non-binary people and asked about the US states that had recently passed laws deemed anti-LGBT.

Obama answered he was "incredibly proud of the steps it sounds like you've already taken".

He joked that when Maria had said they would do something like "come up here and dance with me".

He also said Cameron was "ahead of the curve" on LGBT rights. 

He added: "You should feel encouraged just by virtue of the fact that social attitudes have changed on this faster than I have seen on any other issue.

"It doesn't feel fast enough for you and those impacted by it and that's good. You shouldn't feel satisfied. You should keep pushing.

The trend lines are good on this. We're moving in the right direction partly because of courageous and active young people like yourself. So stick with it." 

Maria later tweeted they were "inundated" with support after what happened.

Speaking to BBC Newsbeat afterwards, they said: "It was something the President said about acting crazy - that if you need to get a social issue across sometimes you need to act a little crazy.

"At that moment I felt my pulse intensify and thought that I've been sitting on this issue for such a long time. I haven't come out to my parents, I just thought, it anyone in the world is going to accept me for who I am it should be the President of the United States. "

Jack Sommers   |   April 23, 2016    2:25 PM ET

Jeremy Corbyn has followed Prince George's example and turned up for his meeting with US President Barack Obama dressed down.

Obama has come to Britain to voice support for the UK's EU membership and may be under the impression that the only person who dressed up to meet him is David Cameron.

He met two-year-old future monarch Prince George, who showed off his indifference to leaders whose power came from being elected by wearing his dressing gown.

Corbyn arrived to meet Obama at Lindley Hall, central London, without a tie.

There had been some doubts over whether the meeting would go ahead. As this is not a state visit, opposition leaders are not automatically granted an audience with the president.

The Labour leader emerged after almost 90 minutes later - wearing a tie - to say the meeting was "excellent". He told reporters the pair touched on a number of topics, including the European Union (EU) "very briefly".

Though he put a tie on and wore a proper suit, it is unclear whether he sang the national anthem to Obama, thereby completing the hat trick of what David Cameron told him to do previously.


Corbyn said the US president congratulated him on being elected leader of the Labour Party.

Christopher York   |   April 23, 2016    2:06 PM ET

When you were a toddler you might have been allowed to stay up late for a birthday or maybe New Year's Eve.

If you're Prince George, things are a little different.

The two-year-old was allowed to be up a little past his bedtime in order to meet Barack and Michelle Obama while rocking a dressing gown and slippers.

The US president said: "I guess you all know why I came this week,

"It's no secret. Nothing was going to stop me from wishing happy birthday to her majesty, or meeting George, who was adorable."


Unsurprisingly, the £27 bath robe in question has sold out online.

Elsewhere, Obama's visit has proved slightly more controversial

The Brexit campaign has been told to “get a grip” after going into meltdown as it reacted to Barack Obama’s pro-EU intervention.

The president’s warning that leaving the EU would leave Britain at “the back of the queue” for American trade deals has been hailed as a decisive boost for David Cameron’s campaign for Britain to stay in the EU.

It triggered a meltdown among senior figures on the Leave campaign, which branded the outgoing president irrelevant and a “lame duck”.

Nigel Farage claimed the fact the president used the word “queue” rather than the more common American equivalent “line” showed the remark was written for him by Downing Street.

“He said Britain would be at the back of the queue, no American would ever say ‘back of the queue’, Americans don’t use the word ‘queue’, Americans use the word ‘line’,” the Ukip leader told BBC Radio Four’s Any Questions.

“Therefore, what Obama said when he said we would be at the back of the queue, he was doing the bidding of Cameron, and Number 10, and doing his best to talk down Britain, and I think that’s shameful.”

Times journalist David Aaronovitch called this claim “bloody silly”.

Jack Sommers   |   April 23, 2016   11:23 AM ET

The Brexit campaign has been told to "get a grip" after going into meltdown over Barack Obama's pro-EU intervention.

The president's warning that leaving the EU would leave Britain at "the back of the queue" for American trade deals has been hailed as a decisive boost for David Cameron's campaign for Britain to stay in the EU.

It triggered a meltdown among senior figures on the Leave campaign, which branded the outgoing president irrelevant and a "lame duck".

Nigel Farage claimed the fact the president used the word "queue" rather than the more common American equivalent "line" showed the remark was written for him by Downing Street.

"He said Britain would be at the back of the queue, no American would ever say 'back of the queue', Americans don't use the word 'queue', Americans use the word 'line'," the Ukip leader told BBC Radio Four's Any Questions.

"Therefore, what Obama said when he said we would be at the back of the queue, he was doing the bidding of Cameron, and Number 10, and doing his best to talk down Britain, and I think that's shameful."

Times journalist David Aaronovitch called this claim "bloody silly".

Ukip MEP Patrick O'Flynn, who jokingly asked if German Chancellor would follow up by threatening to "invade" Britain if it left the EU, argued with Guardian journalist Rafael Behr.

He said: "I think Dave's procuring of thing threat fails a basic patriotism test and we must call him on on that."

Boris Johnson, the Brexit campaign's most colourful backer, has not responded to Obama's gentle castigation of him on Friday evening.

Johnson wrote a column saying the "part Kenyan" president had an "ancestral dislike" of Britain. He claimed Obama had removed a bust of Churchill from the White House.

Obama said he had merely moved the bust to another part of the White House, saying he "loved" the wartime prime minister.

Justice Minister Dominic Raab joined the angry backlash against Obama, saying: "This is really about a lame duck US president about to move off the stage doing an old British friend a favour.

"I have got no doubt that future US trade negotiators are going to look to other opportunities - I think the British will be first in the queue, not at the back of the queue."

Obama also said Britain could not secure a trade deal US "any time soon" if it leaves the EU because Washington's focus would be on reaching agreement with Brussels.

Former Tory leader and ex-work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith moved to switch attention to immigration as he insisted the living wage would provoke a "stampede" to Britain from poorer EU nations.

He wrote in the Daily Mail: "I cheered the introduction of the national living wage, but when take-home pay in Britain is already more than five times higher than in the poorest EU countries, such a jump in wages will surely lead to another stampede to our borders.

"To make the living wage work for British people, we need to be able to control the number of people coming in."

Tory former defence secretary Liam Fox said Obama's views would be irrelevant after the looming US presidential election.

"We have a referendum at the end of June, presidential elections are in November, so whoever it is that will be at the helm of the United States won't be Barack Obama. So, to an extent, whatever he says today is largely irrelevant," he told BBC2's Newsnight.

"It will be the next president, and the next congress, who will be in charge of any trade arrangements."

Leave backer and former foreign secretary Lord Owen told BBC Radio Four's Today programme Obama's trade embarks had been "crafted" in Downing Street.

At a joint press conference with Cameron, the president stressed the referendum was a "decision for the people of the United Kingdom" and he was "not coming here to fix any votes".

He added: "I think it's fair to say that maybe some point down the line there might be a UK-US trade agreement, but it's not going to happen any time soon because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done.

"The UK is going to be in the back of the queue."

Cameron said the referendum was the "sovereign choice of the British people" but added: "As we make that choice, it surely makes sense to listen to what our friends think, to listen to their opinion, to listen to their views, and that's what Barack has been talking about."

On Saturday, Obama attended a town hall-style meeting in London, where he urged young people to ignore cynics telling them they cannot change the world.

He told them to"reject pessimism and cynicism" and "know that progress is possible and problems can be solved".

He added: "Take a longer, more optimistic view of history."

He received a standing ovation and called Prince George, whom he met on Friday, "adorable."


Paul Waugh   |   April 22, 2016    9:46 PM ET

The five things you need to know about the Barack Obama-David Cameron press conference on Friday April 22, 2016…



The second he said it, you could feel the air in the room change. Barack Obama’s warning that Brexit would mean “the UK is going to be in the back of the queue” of America’s trade priorities was as brutal as it was effective. And the sharp intake of breath from the gathered press pack, greeted by the knowingly satisfied smiles of Downing Street aides, was proof that the President had delivered and delivered in spades.

Of course, we had all expected yet another chapter in the Obameron bromance. But with the stakes so high for the Prime Minister – he furrowed his brow, he swallowed hard, as he hung on every word of the President’s answers – Obama clearly felt he had to flash some steel as well as his 100-watt smile.

It felt like a targeted drone strike on the Brexiteers’ weakest argument: that somehow Britain can quit a huge trading bloc and expect to have the same clout when it comes to buying and selling stuff to other countries. And the pounding of the Vote Leave bunker was relentless. It wasn’t just trade that would be at risk, it would be security, intelligence, protection against climate change and migration.

Cameron insisted that he couldn’t tell a President what to say. Oh no, perish the thought. But given that the US and UK are famously ‘separated by a common language’, Downing Street were not unhappy that he used the very English ‘queue’ instead of the American equivalent ‘line’ in his killer quote.

Later, Obama insisted the UK-US ‘special relationship’ would survive Brexit. Yet the main economic message was clear. He’ll still keep sending Christmas and birthday cards, it’s just that there won’t be a fiver inside them any more.


Lots of British politicians dream of a ‘Love, Actually moment’. You know, the bit where dashing young Prime Minister Hugh Grant stands up to a bullying and dismissive American President and tells him where to go. The fictional premier reels off all that is great about the UK - “David Beckham’s right foot..David Beckham’s left foot…” – before winning the applause of his staff and an avalanche of questions from a stunned press corps.

As a putative PM, Boris Johnson could have taken on that role today. “I fear that this has become a bad relationship; a relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, erm... Britain.” (That’s Grant but it fits perfectly to Boris’s self-deprecating Old English Sheepdog schtick).

But in fact Bojo boobed big time with his Sun column today. His piece was meant to be a doughty riposte to Obama’s paean to the EU. But what caught the ear of many was a loud dog whistle about the President being “part Kenyan’”and his “ancestral dislike of the British empire”. Boris even suggested this lay behind the removal of a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office when Obama took office in 2009.

Now, there’s long been confusion about the on-loan Churchill bust. Yes it was taken out and returned to the British embassy, but Obama already had another one outside his private office. When asked about the Boris attack, the President smiled a big smile before baring his teeth.

“I love the guy [Churchill, of course, not Boris Johnson]….There are only so many tables where you can put busts otherwise it starts to looks a little cluttered.” And then came the kicker, where he really managed to make Boris look very small indeed. As the first African American president, he’d decided that a bust of Martin Luther King would be more "appropriate", to remind him "of all the hard work of a lot of people who somehow allow me to have the privilege of holding this office".


The delivery was all Obama’s, that uniquely laid back style of his, sounding for all the world like a university lecturer shooting the breeze. But he’s a uni lecturer who drives around in an armour-plated limo called The Beast.

His language was all the more menacing because it was so polite, not least as he had to pretend that he was not trying to skew our referendum. “I’m not coming here to fix any votes…I’m offering my opinions…. In democracies everyone should want more information not less…That’s not a threat…that should enhance the debate.” The fine line between interfering and influencing was never finer.

Even his ‘back of the queue’ line came prefaced with rope-a-dope soothing lines. “Maybe some point down the line” we will get a US-UK trade deal, but “that’s not going to happen sometime soon”. He wasn’t technically threatening anybody. But neither was the Godfather threatening anybody when he made them ‘an offer you can’t refuse’.

And the low-key undertone was particularly notable as he closed his Boris/Churchill remarks “That's just on Winston Churchill. I think people should know that, know my thinking there.”

Cameron had his own thinly-veiled reward for the President when asked about Donald Trump. Contrary to claims that he was keen to water down his previous attacks on Trump (“stupid”, “wrong” “divisive” remember), Cameron was as nonchalantly passive-aggressive as Obama. “I’ve made some comments in recent months…I don’t think now is the moment to add to them - or subtract from them”. You could hear Hillary Clinton’s whoop of joy from several thousand miles away.


The seats at the press conference were arranged with the usual ‘Bride or Groom’ layout, with the Brits on the right and the Yanks on the left. Politically that matched their broad politics, but it also sounded very much like the pair of them were renewing their special relationship vows.

Their scripted speeches went beyond the usual diplomatic bromides that are always rolled out when leaders visit each other. Cameron talked about ‘Barack and me’, and “my friend Barack” for good measure, stressing “he’s a man with a very good heart”. Obama, slightly taller, was always the more senior of the two.

Just as he often pats the PM on the back, he gallantly even corrected Cameron’s account of their previous table tennis match, saying they were on the same side when beaten by some school pupils. “I can’t remember whether they were eight or 10, but they were decidedly shorter than we were, and they whooped us.”

The President also laid on the charm, not just to ‘David’ but to the Queen and Great Britain itself. His line that The Queen was “a real jewel to the world and not just to the United Kingdom” sounded impromptu, but it worked. It also takes a special light touch to move effortlessly from praising the Enigma codebreaking machine on display in the Foreign Office to citing John Donne’s ‘no man is an island’ poem. Obama didn’t make just a meal of it, he made a SuperSize Meal of it.

For West Wing addicts like Cameron and Osborne, the glamour of a real Presidency is hard to resist. Some still blame the Chancellor’s disastrous 2012 ‘Omnishambles’ on the fact that he took his eye off the ball back home when he jetted out on the eve of the Budget for a bit of political tourism to tag along on the White House south lawn for Cameron’s visit.

But I haven’t seen leader love like this since I attended the famous ‘Colgate’ summit in Camp David between George Bush and Tony Blair, bomber jackets and all. At one point I showed a senior No10 aide a tweet which read “This is the best day of Cameron's life so far. Sorry Sam, but you can see it in his face.” The aide couldn’t help but laugh.

Blair's premiership never depended on Bush (in fact most people forget he actually won a third general election after the Iraq war as well as before it). Yet Cameron's own political future beyond June 23 relies very much on him winning the EU referendum. And that's why he looked so grateful for Obama's love bombs today.


From the moment Obama arrived at the press conference in the Foreign Office’s grand Locarno Room, he looked the cooler of the pair, one hand in his pocket and the other one flicking a fictional cigarette at Brexiteers (both Cameron and the President are reformed smokers).

It’s that cool that is part of Obama’s appeal to the ordinary floating voter who were being targeted by No.10 today in the referendum. Near the end of the press conference, the President even had a question about the death of Prince. He revealed that he and the US Ambassador (who loves his music and has a turntable and lots of vinyl) played “Purple Rain” and “Delirious” “just to get warmed up before we left the house for important bilateral meetings like this”. Other than Bill Clinton, you can’t imagine a single US President ever saying anything like that on a foreign trip.

Obama joked about ‘my team sitting here’ and told a lovely story about the Queen devoting time to one of his star-struck staff.

Yet overall, he wasn’t too cool for school. In fact No10 couldn’t have asked for a more perfect performance. The week that started with a British economic bombardment of the Leave camp ended with a surgical strike. Boris and his Brexiteers will be back, and may well snatch victory in the end, but today they looked like the walking wounded.

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Jack Sommers   |   April 22, 2016    6:20 PM ET

Barack Obama has gently slapped down Boris Johnson for saying he removed a bust of Churchill from the White House and, therefore, doesn't like Britain.

Pro-Brexit Johnson made the claim as part of his attack on Obama, as the president arrived to argue the UK should stay in the EU.

Johnson faced derision on Friday for a column in The Sun in which he said the "part Kenyan" Obama had an "ancestral dislike" of the UK.

He cited the story of Obama returning the Churchill bust to the British Embassy shortly after taking office in 2009. In 2012, the administration clarified it had merely been moved from the Oval Office to the Treaty Room in the White House's second floor.

At a press conference with David Cameron on Friday evening, Obama said he "loved" Churchill and explained why he replaced the bust in the Oval Office with one of Martin Luther King.

At the press conference, Obama said the Churchill bust was now "right outside the door of the Treaty Room, so that I see it every day, including on weekends when I’m going into that office to watch a basketball game, the primary image I see is a bust of Winston Churchill".

He said bust of the civil rights leader was more appropriate given he was the first African-American president.

"I think people should know that, know my thinking there," he said.

In his column, Johnson wrote: "Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire – of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender."

Churchill's grandson and Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames tweeted Johnson was "totally wrong".

“Appalling article by Boris Johnson in [The] Sun, totally wrong on almost everything,” he said.

 Shadow Chancelloer John McDonnell called on Johnson to withdraw the remark.

The London Mayor has not responded to Obama's intervention against Brexit, which has infuriated the Leave campaign.

Ukip MEP and former Express journalist Patrick O'Flynn tweeted: "What has Dave got lined up next - invite Angela Merkel over to say she will invade us if we vote leave?"

Paul Waugh   |   April 22, 2016    8:28 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Friday April 22, 2016…

barack obama


Barack Obama is in town, armed with both his bulletproof limo The Beast and a beastly attack on Brexiteers. Behind that 100-watt smile, there’s a steel to Obama and his mood today is one of ruthless determination to protect vital US national interests and to help his friend David Cameron. And Downing Street hopes that combination of his sunny optimism (he is still hugely popular in the UK) and his deadly serious assessment of the high stakes, will have a real impact on the referendum.

The President chose the Telegraph for his article setting out why the UK should stay in the EU. It was a smart choice for the op-ed, given the paper’s readers include those wavering Tory target voters who have an instinctive loyalty to the PM but worry about uppity Brussels. Writing about dead American soldiers in European cemeteries is not the sort of thing a President does lightly and there’s no question he genuinely believes the EU will be weaker without the UK.

Obama’s most eloquent case was that, in areas like Iranian nuclear talks and climate change, the UK’s influence is ‘amplified’ not muted by being in the EU. Let’s see how he delivers similar lines at the No10 press conference expected around 5pm.

On the Today prog, the doughty Brexit minister Dom Raab was unperturbed by the size of the Obama juggernaut. He cannily seized on a line by former Washington ambassador Peter Westmacott that compared Britain’s grumbles with Brussels with individual US states’ tensions with Washington. Raab said such talk reduces the UK to “little more than a North Dakota or an Alabama”. Ouch.

“US interests are not always the same as UK interests,” Raab added, with a dollop of ‘Love Actually’ defiance that once again showed how Eurosceptic Tories can sound like wizened old lefty Labour MPs. Sharp, photogenic, young: don’t rule Raab out of a 2025 Tory leadership race folks. Boris, in the Sun, is similarly punchy in attacking American ‘hypocrisy’ over sovereignty.

As for the EU debate itself, the stat attack continued. No.10 were delighted by UK Statistics Authority chief Sir Andrew Dilnot describing as ‘potentially misleading’ Vote Leave’s famous claim that we ‘send £350m every week’ to the EU.

Yet sending £175m a week to Brussels (the real net figure) is still not an easy sell to a hard-pressed British public. And on Question Time last night, there was one audience member who had his own 'back of the envelope' calculation that the Vote Leave camp should surely turn into a viral video: quitting the EU will generate enough money to repay the national debt by 2030.


Yesterday’s tributes to the Queen on her 90th birthday had some highlights and lowlights. The Telegraph’s waspish sketchwriter Michael Deacon records for posterity ‘the single most boring anecdote ever’ by an MP, as Tory Michael Ellis told a story about Her Maj and a stained glass window.

In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn pitched his own response rather shrewdly. Referring to his own age and that of the Monarch was a nice self-deprecating touch which got over just how long he’s been around too. The gag about the Queen being an Arsenal fan kinda worked (it had a kind of 1950s flavour). But smartest of all was the way the Labour leader managed to deftly (yes deftly) separate his own lifelong Republicanism from his admiration for Her Majesty’s public service. He managed to disentangle the institution from the individual and you could tell Labour MPs around him were relieved.

Yet will Corbyn pull off a similar, and possibly much harder, trick when it comes to Barack Obama? Again, he has a lifelong opposition to US ‘imperialism’ in foreign and economic policy. On the other hand, the first ever black President, a man who introduced even a mild form of public healthcare to the US and looks like closing Guantanamo, is perhaps someone Corbyn can admire - while parking his loathing of the ‘institution’ of decades of Amercian foreign policy orthodoxy. And actually on foreign policy, this year’s Atlantic interview suggests Obama is the only President to have challenged that orthodoxy, with his inimitable line ‘don’t do stupid shit’.

We still don’t know if the two men will meet at some point, or if there will be an historic pic of them together. If there isn’t, that’s surely a huge missed opportunity.

Still, while he may be getting the hang of PMQs and set-pieces in Parliament, the unease in Corbyn’s own ranks hasn’t gone away. In The House magazine, Stephen Kinnock says Labour must take ‘remedial action’ if it does not make gains in the coming local elections. And in her speech this week Alison McGovern said: “Losing control of a single council at this stage would be an unacceptable betrayal of the people who depend on this part”.


The Queen’s birthday was, as guessed here yesterday, a good day to bury some policy changes you wouldn’t normally want to get much profile. A string of Written Ministerial Statements revealed things like: a massive hike in immigration appeals fees, some backtracking on legal cuts, a refusal to take 3,000 child refugees from Europe (though that same figure will be taken from camps in and around Syria) and a U-turn on a previous refusal to part-nationalise steelworks.

Yet some of the worst news was not delivered via Whitehall. The ONS’s borrowing stats made unhappy reading for George Osborne, but worse still was Iain Duncan Smith’s interview in the Spectator in which he revealed that the Chancellor’s figure for £12bn in welfare cuts was, as everyone suspected, plucked out of thin air. "A massive cut to working-age benefits had been announced before an election, with no work done to see where the cuts were going to be found."

Still, there was one bit of good news for the PM yesterday: the Parliamentary Standards commissioner decided not to go ahead with an investigation into his shares in Blairmore, although without giving any reasons why. (Meanwhile Politico rightly raises the problems the Panama Papers cause for Jean-Claude Juncker and his record in lax tax Luxembourg, a fact I’m surprised the Brexiteers haven’t push properly yet).


This teacher’s reaction to the death of Prince went viral last night.


If you’re too fat or smoke, you can forget about routine surgery in some ares of the UK, a new FoI investigation has found. The Royal College of Surgeons has found that 31% of local clinical commissioning groups and one health board in Wales are rationing operations. This is the sort of stuff that keeps talkshow radio busy for hours.

But just as worrying for both sides in the junior docs dispute are the Health Service Journal leaked emails showing some docs have discussed indefinite strike action. BMA lead Dr Johann Malawana talked about forms of ‘permanent action’ One doctor said :”[we] should be openly mentioning this before the first [all out full walkout], even if as a casual ‘well maybe if it gets really bad all the juniors will walkout forever’.”

And as the first all-out A&E strike gets closer, ministers scent they are starting to turn the political tables for the first time in ages. Shadow Health Sec Heidi Alexander (who don’t forget got her way in telling Shad Cab ministers to avoid picket lines) will undoubtedly be very nervous of explicitly supporting the all-out action given the risk to patients.

Jeremy Hunt has written to her to ask if she “supports the withdrawl of potentially life-saving care from some of our most vulnerable patients”. It’s a question Labour will have to directly answer at some point. You can bet Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell want to give full support, but the rest of the party may not be too keen.


Schools minister Nick Gibb has a lot on his plate at the moment. Today he’s confirmed he’s scaring a national spelling test for 7-year-olds in England after it was published in “human error” on a government website. Charlotte Smiles, the primary school teacher who spotted the mistake after a pupil gave the game away, and ATL union chief Mary Bousted were on the Today prog.

But with the huge row over the plan for forced academies (which sounds a bit like ‘forced rhubarb’ in more ways than one) rumbling on, primary schools certainly are in the political front line more than in years. As I’ve written before, the looming concern for many parents, pupils and teachers in primaries is this year’s new SAT exam for grammar, an exam that English graduates say looks too hard.

Shadow Education Sec Lucy Powell has today claimed that the original concept of Free Schools is also “all but dead”. Labour says the Government has snuck out new criteria for Free School applicants that actually removes the requirement for those proposing Free Schools to conduct a survey demonstrating demand from local parents.


Our latest CommonsPeople podcast is out. Listen directly HERE (or download on iTunes HERE) to our discussion of Corbyn’s PMQs win, the Gove-Cummings tag-team, Maccy Ds and the PLP and how the House of Lords shows there are fifty shades of Government U-turn. Oh and our quiz: which stalls were NOT at Labour's conference last year?

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President Obama's Last Opportunity With the Gulf

Sayed Alwadaei   |   April 22, 2016   12:00 AM ET

When President Obama visits Saudi Arabia this week, he should dwell on the contradictions which have plagued his relationship with the Middle East throughout his presidency. His private disdain for Saudi Arabia, tribalism and sectarianism are well known, but these are at odds with his administration's continued, substantial support for these same states.

The contradiction begin with civil rights. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus in 1955, few could have predicted that an African American would be president just fifty-three years in the future. President Obama was born in 1961, into an America in the spasms of the civil rights movement. The ultimate success of American equal rights was in a future barely imaginable in a time of nuclear threat and Jim Crow laws.

Little Abdulhadi was born in 2014, into the middle of the same climactic struggle which since 2011 has swept the Arab World. Today he is in prison with his mother. The Arab Spring has led to terror - literal, evil and unimagined - but it has also sparked a flowering movement for civil rights.

His mother, Zainab Al Khawaja, is currently serving a three years prison sentence in Bahrain for daring to express herself. She tore to shreds a portrait of the King of Bahrain, in a moment as resistant to oppression as Rosa Parks' refusal to stand up. The two acts have a single commonality: they fought repression with the extraordinarily ordinary. And that is because it remains a mark of a repressive regime that ordinary actions are made illegal. What could justify segregation sixty years ago? What can justify the repression of political opinion today?

These questions go to the heart of American identity and foreign policy. Identity, because America must forever be proud in the success of the civil rights movement in the face of institutionalised racism. Foreign policy, because the United States has so frequently put itself at silent odds with the same movements abroad, when civil rights have not immediately suited its national self-interest.

It could have been different. In 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed for US bombs over Libya. In return for the Arab League's support, she conceded US support for the democratic movement in Bahrain. The expanding crack in the Gulf's façade of authoritarian stability was quickly concealed, and what could have been the first successful civil rights movement in the Gulf was traded for bombs over Libya which, while they no doubt helped shorten the burgeoning civil war, served in the long run only to quicken the North African country's collapse.

With it, the opportunity for swift and peaceful democratization in Bahrain disappeared. The momentary toe-hold in the Gulf disappeared. Today, Saudi Arabia is on a violent war-path to regional hegemony: its war in Yemen, interventions in Syria, and hypocritical war against terrorism it has helped breed are all towards expanding the reach of one family. All the while, Bahrain sycophantically follows its neighbour into every new, impulsive venture: it was the first to expel Lebanese citizens from its land after Saudi Arabia's row with the Levantine state; the first to cut diplomatic ties with Iran after the execution of Saudi Arabian Shia dissidents in January; the first join Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.

Last year, President Obama sent a clear message to his Gulf allies: "Strengthen your own societies. Be inclusive. Make sure that your Shia populations don't feel as if they're being left out. Think about the economic growth." It was a positive call, but barely begins to challenge the size of these problems. Take the Shia in Saudi Arabia: it is not simply that they "feel as if they're being left out". Saudi schoolchildren are taught that Shia are blasphemers and should be punished with death. It is no wonder that the Saudi Shia are a regular target for terrorist attacks, with bombings claiming dozens of lives in January this year and May and October last year.

But the continues arms sales - $20 billion to Saudi Arabia since their intervention in Yemen - and silence on many free speech cases - Zainab Al Khawaja's is one of them - belies the rhetoric. Most alarming are the cases coming out of Saudi Arabia: the Shia youth facing crucifixion for his protest, an act of retribution aimed at his family: his uncle is Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr, whom the Saudi authorities silently executed this January past.

This is President Obama's last chance to make a positive difference. His message of hope was infectious seven years ago, when he sent a message to Cairo and the Muslim world: "You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party."

That call to democracy has been undermined innumerable times since he came to power. Whatever his private misgivings, he has allowed his Saudi Arabian Wahhabi allies to spread their creed and supported their war in Yemen - a war apparently to restore the legitimate ruler, waged by one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world.

President Obama calls Libya a "shit show". Nearly everything happening in the Arab World today could be called that. For eight years, opportunities have been squandered, and that "shit show" has spread from Iraq through Syria, Bahrain and Yemen to Egypt and Libya.

Here comes one last opportunity: don't squander it. Our own civil rights leaders are in prison. If President Obama mentions no one else, let him raise the case of Zainab Al-Khawaja, or the Saudi youth Ali Al-Nimr who faces crucifixion, and hold them up as high as Rosa Parks. Ordinary acts face extraordinary repression in the Gulf, but there remains a chance to change that.

Graeme Demianyk   |   April 21, 2016   10:12 PM ET

US President Barack Obama has paid tribute to Prince, hailing an "electrifying performer" who "did it all".

The musical icon's publicist confirmed the singer had passed away after his body was found at his Paisley Park estate in Minnesota, early on Thursday morning.

Among the many tributes was as an impassioned ode from President Obama, who said the "world lost a creative icon".

He said in a statement: "Michelle and I join millions of fans from around the world in mourning the sudden death of Prince. Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly, or touched quite so many people with their talent.

“As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all. Funk. R&B. Rock and roll. He was a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer.”


The President also remembered Prince by quoting the musician.

“‘A strong spirit transcends rules,’ Prince once said — and nobody’s spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his band, and all who loved him.‎”

Last summer, the Obamas hosted a private concert at the White House for friends and family that included performances by Prince and Stevie Wonder.

Trying to Gag Obama on Brexit Betrays British Values

Sir Christopher Meyer   |   April 20, 2016   12:00 AM ET

On Thursday, in his last full presidential year, President Obama arrives in Britain on a farewell tour of some of America's closest allies. He will have just come from meetings with the monarchs of the Gulf Arab states. After London he travels to Germany to meet Europe's most powerful leader, Chancellor Merkel.

For those in Britain, eternally fearful of our decline as a world power and forever examining for signs of decay the so-called special relationship with America, this should be gratifying confirmation that we still sit alongside the US at the top table of international politics.

But nowadays there is nothing particularly special about the relationship. In his cool, detached way, Obama has never bothered, as did Bill Clinton and George W. Bush with Tony Blair, to foster the illusion of Britain as the indispensable link beween America and Europe. For several years Obama gave Britain a kicking for not meeting the NATO requirement that members spend 2% of national output on defence. We are told that he even threatened David Cameron with the demise of the special relationship if we did not cough up - which we duly did. The Americans have always known that they have only to invoke this venerable Churchillian relic and, like Pavlov's dogs, we will jump to attention and salute.

Earlier this year, Obama made a disparaging reference to Cameron's loss of interest in Libya after Britain, with France and the US, had in 2011 helped overthrow the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. That had led to his assassination and Libya's descent into a chaos which is now being exploited by ISIS. Obama's rebuke was greeted over here by howls of anguish and front-page headlines. Never mind that there was more than a grain of truth in his criticism of our prime minister, and that other close allies felt the lash of Obama's tongue.

For those who believe, as I do, that the US remains our most important ally, Obama's visit is the moment to pump some red corpuscles into a relationship, more anaemic than special. And that might have happened in normal times. But these are not normal times. In truth, the President's visit risks making a scratchy relationship scratchier. If that happens, Obama will turn with relief to Angela Merkel and the Germans.

On arriving in London he will find himself thrown into the monstrous hopper of the British referendum campaign, where facts are sacrificed daily on the altar of propaganda and abuse. He has been insulted by the leading Brexiteer, Boris Johnson, for suggesting that the United States would prefer Britain to remain in the EU - declared, bipartisan, American policy since time immemorial. A group of Eurosceptic MPs have warned him off intervening in the campaign.

Yet, for all the fog of the Brexit wars, Obama's visit will vividly illuminate what is at stake for Britain on 23 June. The referendum will fix Britain's place in the world for a century or more. It will decide the nature of our relations not only with the European Union, but with all our close allies and partners beyond Europe, foremost among whom is the US.

These allies and partners have every right to express a view on Brexit. Their histories and national interests are intimately entwined with ours, from Japan with its billions of pounds invested in our car industry, to the US with its indispensable contribution to our security. What is a special relationship worth if the American president is not allowed to say his piece on Brexit? The US national interest is profoundly in play. When the American ambassador to Britain tells us that Washington wants a strong UK in a strong EU, it may be a trite phrase, but it rests on 75 years of intimate American engagement with Europe and Britain. Obama may have proclaimed a "pivot to Asia". But Europe remains an area of vital American interest, with a revanchist Putin on the march.

If nothing else, this visit may snap us out of the misty sentimentality with which we continue to view the idea of a special relationship with the US. Like any other relationship between states, it's about hard national interest not sentiment, though in the case of our two countries interests converge more often than not.

President Obama is, let us not forget, the leader of a country which saved our bacon in World War 2, kept Soviet Russia at bay during the Cold War and today provides 70% of NATO's military muscle. We should afford him the freedom of speech that we ourselves profess to uphold. So, can we, please, mind our manners and not abuse the President during his visit? If that is not a British national interest, I don't know what is.

Kathryn Snowdon   |   April 15, 2016    8:29 PM ET

Boris Johnson has warned Barack Obama not to be "hypocritical" and back the campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union.

The Mayor of London, who is campaigning for the UK to leave the EU, said it would not be right for the US President "to urge us to sacrifice control" when America would not do the same.

Johnson's comments come days ahead of Obama's visit to the UK next week.

The White House has indicated that Obama - who has previously voiced support for continued UK membership - is ready to offer his view as a "friend" if asked about Brexit during his two-day visit, though he will stress that it is a decision for the British people.

The US President is due to have lunch with the Queen at Windsor Castle before talks with David Cameron in 10 Downing Street on April 22.

He will answer questions from members of the public at a "town hall" event in London the following day. 

Johnson said that the US should not encourage Britain to stick with a position it would not accept for itself, telling the Evening Standard: "I honestly don't mind the idea of him joining the debate.

"Where we do part company, and where I do mind, is that it is plainly hypocritical for America to urge us to sacrifice control - of our laws, our sovereignty, our money and our democracy - when they would not dream of ever doing the same."

Fellow Brexit campaigner Michael Gove insisted quitting the EU would free up more cash for the NHS as Vote Leave put the straining service centre stage. 

It claimed a large chunk of the UK's £10.6 billion net contribution to Brussels could be diverted to medical care if Britain quits the EU.

The Justice Secretary told Sky News: "If we stay in, if we vote to remain, then the European Union will press ahead with integration and it will drag us into that process.

"At the moment, the money we give to the European Union is spent by others, people that we have never elected, never chosen and can't remove.

"If that money is taken back, then that £50 million a day will be spent on British people's priorities and the NHS, of course, is top of the list."

Downing Street insisted that Brexit would mean "less money for the NHS", with Cameron's official spokeswoman saying: "A strong NHS needs a strong economy and the Prime Minister has been very clear that our economy is stronger in the EU."

Health unions blasted Vote Leave's figures as "spurious and outrageously misleading", insisting the NHS's financial woes were made in Whitehall and not Brussels.

Unite national officer for health Barrie Brown said: "It defies belief to think that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove would do a massive political U-turn and divert billions of EU cash into the NHS – when they have supported real cuts to the NHS budget and been enthusiastic flag-wavers for the privatisation and break-up of the NHS."

And TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The reality is that Brexit would plunge the NHS into a staffing crisis, which could lead to the longest hospital waiting lists we've ever known.

"And with experts warning that Brexit would hit Britain's economy, the consequences for NHS funding would be dire."

Meanwhile, former chancellor Lord (Alistair) Darling accusing Brexit backers of offering Project Fantasy, as he warned that leaving would threaten Britain's economy.

In a speech in London, the Labour peer acknowledged that either side could win the EU contest.

"This is a very, very close vote. No one can predict with any certainty what is likely to happen," said the Labour peer.

"I hope we will win and I hope we will win well but we need to get the support of people the length and breadth of the country, no matter what their political allegiance has been in the past.

"We need every single vote. It is going to be very close. Every vote counts."

Ukip leader Nigel Farage challenged Cameron to a one-on-one debate on the claims contained in a leaflet sent out to households around the country, setting out the Government case for continued EU membership.

Handing his own copy of the document back to 10 Downing Street, Farage also took a swipe at Obama, branding him "the most anti-British American president there has ever been".

I Don't Believe in Equal Pay - Here's Why

Simon Cohen   |   April 13, 2016   10:22 AM ET

The World Economic Forum says that the gender pay gap won't close completely until 2133.

But recent events might change that. With the outcry following the tennis star Novak Djokovic saying that male players ought to be paid more (though he later apologized); Donald Trump's punishing comments about abortion (which he apparently 'misspoke'); and now with five members of the world champion US women's soccer team accusing US Soccer of wage discrimination - it seems that 117 years for equal pay is too long a wait for many.

Those who champion #equalpay say that the current disparity is a reflection of the wider inequality women experience around the world - and that's why it is so important. We pay more for what we value, and the charge is that society seems to value women less. If we really value women, they say, we should pay them the same. I don't buy it.

Women should be paid more than men. Yes, even for doing the same work. Pay them more. Here's why:

They can be trusted more

I wonder what proportion of the Panama Papers scandal involves alleged corruption by women? I'd say it's a safe bet it will be less than 50%. I'd be surprised if it was even in double digits. In the world of men, in particular white, rich men who control the majority of our economic and political systems, money and power is projected as the most valuable commodity and currency in society. This mindset naturally flows into greed, corruption, and breaking the rules at any cost to keep more for themselves.

When women are paid more, we all reap the benefits. As the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde said, 'Empowering women is not just about fairness - it also has macroeconomic benefits. For example, eliminating employment gender gaps could boost GDP by 5% in the US, 9% in Japan, and 27% in India.' She stopped short of spelling out the effect of GDP if women were paid more than men, but you do the math.

The equal pay debate is not just about how much we earn, but what we spend our money on. We have enough money to solve world hunger and other global issues. But our (mostly male) politicians decide that spending on defence, for example, is a better use of resources.

Women have an innate compassion beyond us men, and because of this, I trust them more to use their money in ways that benefit us all. And this brings me on to the baby elephant in the room of the equal pay debate - and why we should pay women more.

They give birth

As much as Donald Trump and others would hate to admit it, all of us - yes all of us - come from women. Women have a special role in life's drama, which us men simply can't compete with. Most women put their careers, and in some parts of the world, their lives on the line to bring new life into this world. They often return to work part-time to juggle child-care duties and take years to claw back the salary and professional standing they were used to before children. Women should not be penalised for the most natural thing in life - having a child. From an evolutionary point of view, it's what they were born to do.

Instead, we should pay women more from the moment they start earning, to offset the loss of earnings and career that they would experience by having a baby.

Anyone who has been present with a woman throughout pregnancy, or been present for the birthing process, and witnessed the grace and beauty with which women carry themselves and their children, would not bemoan receiving less salary than their female counterparts. These are walking, talking superheroes who deserve more of our respect and gratitude. An inflated salary is the least we could do.

For those women who choose not to have children, or can not have children, I trust them more to use their increased salaries to better use than men.

As a society, we seem to patronize and pity our women in business and politics with a proverbial pat on the back - or the bottom. There are sinister, degrading forces at work that warp our perceptions of women, and it's time we tackle them.

Porn pushes women back

The pornography industry is a global phenomenon that receives too little attention in the equal pay debate, considering its pervasive impact on our culture. The industry is worth $97 billion, with over 4.4 billion page views per month. The overwhelming majority of porn objectifies women, metamorphosing them into things to be enjoyed, or even humiliated, beaten or raped. Porn is ubiquitous. Children are exposed to this, learning from a very young age that what it means to be a woman is to be used or abused by a man - and not to be taken seriously, never mind considered an equal.

Women should be paid more because they need all the resources and support they can get to weave a different narrative about the role of women into the fabric of society. Porn pushes women back and in a porno culture it is impossible for this not to seep into all aspects of society - from decisions about who to invite on to the company board, acts of domestic violence, and everyday sexism. An inflated pay for women would go some way to reflect that, as a society, we understand the impact that porn has, and don't subscribe to the values that it imposes on us - and equip our women with the financial resources to craft a different story.

And for those who think porn has nothing to do with the gender pay gap, consider why, in 2016, we still need to prove we are 18 to see an adult film at the movies, yet a third of 10 year olds have watched hardcore porn online. Porn is not to be under-estimated as innocent titillation or a reflection of some perverted form of freedom. It is a form of control. It is in the money men's best interests to teach us to think of women in this way - no wonder 12-17 year old boys are a key audience. If 50% of the world's population were seen as equals, to be respected, elevated and to do business with, the current systems - and those who control them - would surely crumble.

Of course, not all men hold these values. There are some at the top of the power structures who buck this trend - and it must really annoy those business and political elites who strive to keep things as they are.

But there are exceptions

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is a shining light with his gender equal cabinet and feminist message; President Obama and Bernie Sanders champion women's rights, and other leading men take a more enlightened view of women's role in society. In my own little way, when I gave away my £1m company Global Tolerance (to two ladies), in order to be a full-time father, I hope I have contributed to the gender debate.

Of course, all men are capable of compassion, sensitivity, and many of our greatest social, spiritual and moral leaders throughout history have been men. Unfortunately, in the current business and political arenas they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. And even when they are at the top, they are usually cogs in a system operated by men who are greedy for money and power. For the compassionate man to have any lasting influence, we need the whole system to change: in our businesses, governments, sports - in fact, all sections of society. We need the 99% to be advocating women rights, not the 1%. And to be a real movement, it needs to start with men. Men who know that elevating women by paying them more is not a threat to manhood, but an opportunity for all of us to progress.

What next?

Even with equal pay, women would still be at a huge disadvantage in our rich, white, male-dominated world, where porn lurks behind every screen, where women are punished for having children, and there are damningly few punishments for the bankers, politicians and others who openly use their inflated pockets and egos for their own self serving interests.

It's time the equal pay debate moved on. Let's pay women more than men. Then, just maybe, we will have more of a level playing field in our society. Maybe in a few decades time, when all of our political cabinets are like Canada's, and when our board rooms around the world are 50% women instead of 12%, and when our children are exposed to the grace and beauty of womenkind, and not their objectification - maybe then I will be up for #equalpay. Until then, let's #paywomenmore.