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How three plain-speaking women put political leaders to the sword

By Janet Street-Porter

Published 05/05/2015

Open letter: Ione Wells spoke out after she was sexually assaulted
Open letter: Ione Wells spoke out after she was sexually assaulted

They doggedly continue to talk at us, not to us. That was my frustrated conclusion watching last week's national party leaders' debate. The men who could be the next prime minister still haven't mastered the art of communication - in spite of spending thousands on advisers, groomers, stylists and voice coaches.

Ed Miliband has apparently sought out a company called Extended Mind to channel his inner self and improve his presentational skills, but he still starts every single sentence with "Let me tell you what I'm planning to do" like a robot.

The best communicators in that hall in Leeds were the amateurs, the ordinary folk sitting in the audience. Maybe it's a man thing, this inability to talk from the heart. The nearest Cameron gets to emotion is trotting out the story about his son Ivan, which we have heard plenty of times before.

Contrast the glib promises of our political leaders with the passionate words of three women unafraid to speak their minds last week. Each had a different message, but what they shared was utter conviction, and that's what so many politicians lack.

An 11-year-old girl from Gambia fled Africa on a boat and watched both parents, her sister and her brother drown as it sank on April 13, with the loss of more than 400 lives. Shortly afterwards, another boat sank and 800 more asylum-seekers drowned.

That little girl has sent a message to other children back home which will carry far more weight than any mealy-mouthed pronouncements by world leaders. Now being cared for by a Catholic charity in Calabria, she wrote (in English): "To cross the sea is very, very dangerous. Please, my brothers and sisters, stop coming in this bad way. Please, please and please. I tell you this because I know what I saw and I saw many things that I can never describe".

She ended: "Your young sister. Goodbye, and thank you for reading this letter". Who could read that and not be moved to tears and want to help?

In Baltimore, torn apart by racial unrest, one mother spoke out and said the words so many other Americans were too scared to articulate. Toya Graham, a mother of six, found her teenage son in the midst of the riots, wearing black, his face concealed by a mask, holding a rock he was about to chuck at the police.

Ms Graham took control of the situation, slapped him and shouted: "Take that mask off! You want to be out here doing this dumb s***? Get over here now." Her 16-year-old son immediately complied and she marched him home.

Filmed by bystanders, the sight of a mother enforcing discipline has gone viral. She told reporters: "He's my only son and at the end of the day, I don't want him to be a Freddie Gray" (the man whose death triggered the riots amid allegations of police brutality and racism).

Ione Wells was sexually assaulted by a 17-year-old in London as she walked home. He is awaiting trial and cannot be named, but Ione has waived her right to anonymity to write an open letter in which she refuses "to be a victim".

She says she is "a daughter, a cousin, a niece, a girlfriend, a pupil, a cousin and an employee who served everyone in the cafe down the road". She goes on: "All those people … make up my community and you assaulted every single one of them … you violated the truth that I will never cease to fight for … that there are infinitely more good people in the world than bad."

Reflect on Ione's words, listen to Toya Graham, marvel at the eloquence of a little girl from Gambia in a strange land. Not a word from Miliband, Clegg or Cameron can match these three women.

The politicos are mired in the double speak of "austerity" and "working people". They still aren't speaking our language - and the audience in Leeds last week couldn't have made that plainer.

Auntie still relying on grandfathers

The new BBC2 controller, Kim Shillinglaw, says her audience (average age 60) is “the punk rock generation” that is not ready for “staid and predictable programmes”.

She says she wants documentaries that “grab you” with plenty of “cheeky irreverence” — a bit like Benefits Street crossed with Meet the Ukippers.

As a baby boomer, who presented hours of programmes about punk all those decades ago, I’ve been waiting (in vain) for that call from BBC towers.

Then, I read that BBC2 has a new series about food in which Terry Wogan (76) goes around Britain in a taxi: yet another show presented by an old bloke. Hardly punk. More cosy blarney.

Supermarket puts an end to robot wars

In the battle for supremacy between our major supermarkets, a small victory for customers. One — Morrisons — is bringing back tills manned by real people.

After finding that three quarters of shoppers want to speak to a human being and not a robot shouting “unidentified item in bagging area”, the supermarket is introducing manned “express” checkouts for people buying fewer than 10 items.

It reminds me of the day the first automated petrol station opened: a huge sign on the forecourt said, “Service is our business”. Underneath, a new sign read, “Self-service only”.

And that sums up shopping at Tesco, Sainsbury’s and all the rest, doesn’t it?

Belfast Telegraph

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