Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the drafting committee, holding the paper. | Wikipedia


Has anyone read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? I recommend it – it’s not very long and easy to read. The problem is that since it was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 human rights have got worse, rather than better.

I was interested to learn that a late draft said “all men are created equal.” This became “all human beings are created equal” after Hansa Mehta, an Indian female member of the drafting committee, persuaded the chair, Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of the President, to make the last-minute change.

This gesture towards women has not, alas, brought any real improvement in their condition, according to the latest United Nations report, Women 2020. One-in-three women, 736 million of them, have suffered violence at the hands of a partner or family member.

Even more alarming, 137 women are killed in their home every day. Robert Burns’s famous line about “man’s inhumanity to man” needs updating to “man’s inhumanity to women.” Although the practice is less common, 200 million women are still walking around the world after suffering genital mutilation.

Twenty-five years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on Equality, there is no improvement to speak of. Only 28 per cent of women hold executive positions, the same figure as 25 years ago. In companies only 18 per are Chief Executives.

In Fortune’s 500, only 37 are in the top job. Women are badly under-represented in science and engineering, and in research into these subjects.

Although there seem to be many more females in politics these days, and not just in Britain, the global figure for women MPs still stands at 25 per cent. There are none at all in the new Afghan governing authority.

Which brings me to a pet thesis of mine, which may be unworldly, unrealistic, unachievable and all that. This is that there should be a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Women, approved by the United Nations, with powers to bring sanctions against nations which, for example, have no laws about domestic abuse (43 per cent in Africa, 35 per cent in Asia), exclude females from key areas of life such as politics or punish them for dress offences or driving a car.

I‘ve counted at least 25 global organisations doing marvellous work monitoring and campaigning on women’s rights and gender equality. But genuine progress will only be made if countries are forced by the international community to pay a serious price for their transgressions against half of the human race.

I would like to hear more women MPs taking up this cause with greater enthusiasm, rather than bad-mouthing their political opponents as ”scum” (imagine the furore if a Tory MP were to call Labour “scum).”or arguing whether women should be called women at all but “people with vaginas.”

Starmer deserves his chance

It was a testing party conference for Sir Keir Starmer, which I thought he handled well.. I was very surprised to read some of the hostile accounts of his performance, especially in the Daily Telegraph. I agreed with the headline in the non-Labour-loving Daily Mail: “Labour now has a leader the Tories MUST take seriously.

Some commentators already regard him as an “interim leader” and believe that he could be challenged before the next general election. They have in mind his potty-mouthed deputy, Angela Rayner, who would plainly be a disaster, and Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester, who looks a more serious option, though he isn’t yet an MP.

A YouGov poll, taken immediately after the conference, showed that the gap between the Government and Labour still stands at 39-31, but I would expect that to change in Labour’s favour in the coming weeks as the energy crisis and economic hardship get worse.

Starmer could already take some comfort from his personal ratings in the poll. He came across as “strong, competent and caring”, useful attributes to set against Boris Johnson’s dithering. He scored over Johnson on issues like “caring about other people” and “awareness of people’s concerns.” areas in which he has looked weak in the past.

The Labour leader’s biggest problem as a politician is that he isn’t really a politician at all, but a lawyer, having only been an MP for five years before he was elected leader. He lacks the quick tactical responses of an experienced politician and, unlike Tony Blair, who had Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell to prompt him at his elbow, Starmer seems like a one-mand band, too easily caught off guard.

There is a lengthening group of Labour leaders who have failed to reach Downing Street, including Hugh Gaitskell, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, John Smith, David Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn. Given Labour’s situation, having so much ground to make up after its disastrous performance at the last election, Starmer seems likely to join them in time, no matter how able he proves to be.

On the list of Labour leaders who never reached Number 10, John Smith (through premature death) is the only one who didn’t at least get a chance to lead the party into battle at a general election. Starmer, on the form, commitment and clarity he showed at Brighton, deserves a crack at 2024 if Johnson (or whoever is leading the Tories) wants to wait that long.

Climbing the greasy pole

The tradition of climbing the greasy pine tree pole that has been dragged through the forest (Pollensa) or brought from the sea (Puerto Pollensa) and erected for brave people to climb has always intrigued me.

The story used to be that the winner, who has to be quite acrobatic and unafraid of falling onto his chums in the crowd – or worse, missing them and injuring himself on the stone floor - then had his choice of virgins in the town (if he could find any, that is).

The tradition will be explained tonight in a film prepared by Craig Macintosh and shown free at the Cloisters in Pollensa. I hope I’m not too late for a ticket.

The Welsh contrarian

Rugby writer Stephen Jones, of the Sunday Times, has been a strong critic of his namesake Eddie, even though the England coach took them to the last World Cup final, smashing Australia and New Zealand on the way. He has hammered Jones for keeping the same old players and not experimenting with youth.

Now that Jones has done that, dropping Gorge Ford and the Vunipola brothers and introduced some exciting young talent into the squad, he has attacked him again for being “chaotic.” Personally, I can’t wait to see the lightning fast Egyptian, Adam Radjan, or Michael Lynagh’s son Louis, on the wings, with Marcus Smith at fly-half. I would also make Maro Itoje captain and leave out Owen Farrell. I wonder what the Welsh contrarian would say about that.

The wrong opener

Perhaps England have been looking at the wrong Warwickshire opening batsman. In choosing Dom Sibley, who was dogged but too slow and limited in his range of shots, they missed his partner, Rob Yates.

The left-hander, just 22 and still at Birmingham University, scored a brilliant century yesterday (almost in October, which must be a record for cricket) in the Bob Willis Trophy. Let’s hope the England selectors took note.