Fay Jones: I am Bridget Jones. Why won’t the BBC admit it?

23 Dec

Fay Jones is MP for Brecon & Radnorshire.

I am Bridget Jones.

No really, I am. Aged 13, I bought a copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary in W.H Smith in Cardiff. I started reading it on the train home and, by the next day, I had made a friend who would stay with me for the rest of my life.

As I grew up and went to university, I typified Bridget’s behaviours – obsessed with my weight, white wine, cigarettes, bad men and bad decisions. Now in my mid-30s and a Member of Parliament, some of those habits have gone though, like Bridget, the odd mishap cannot be ruled out….

But much as I would like to claim her, I am one of billions of women worldwide to recognise myself in Bridget. This is the sheer genius of Bridget Jones and her creator, Helen Fielding. Bridget Jones is a universal figure that so many can identify with.

This week, in Being Bridget Jones, the BBC has produced a documentary looking back at the 25 years since the publication of the original novel. The programme’s talking heads featured fans of the novel – Ayesha Hazarika, Cherie Blair and Jess Phillips– who read aloud from their favourite passages. Three well-known, brilliant left-wing women: a Labour MP, a Labour Party adviser and a highly successful QC, who is also married to a former Labour Prime Minister.

I wouldn’t try to argue that Bridget herself is free of politics. She voted Labour. In the second book, Bridget talks about her joy in the Labour landslide in 1997. But a memorable scene from the second book proves my point, when Bridget realises that her boyfriend, Mark Darcy, votes Conservative:

“So I vote Tory, what’s wrong with that?” he said, staring at me incredulously. “What do you vote?” he said.

“Labour, of course,” I hissed. “Everybody votes Labour.”

“Well I think that’s patently been proved not to be the case, so far,” he said.

This is what’s wrong with the BBC. So obsessed with its own worldview that it pigeon-holes its audience. Despite a clear election result just over twelve months ago, it views the country as left-wing. In making this programme, it must have thought that no one with political views right of the centre would want to watch a programme about one of the most popular works of fiction in the twentieth century. Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

Watching Being Bridget Jones and feeling my disappointment gather, I messaged my WhatsApp group of female Conservative MPs. Cue a blizzard of similar messages – each of us with stories of adoring the books and films as teenagers, and carrying the lessons of Bridget into later life. Just like millions of women across the country who – believe it or not – vote Conservative.

The BBC cannot have it both ways. You cannot express a fervent need for ‘balance’ on pressing day to day political issues, but ignore a big slice of the country when you make a documentary about a popular novel. It’s time for the BBC to accept that the centre right is not a fringe minority. We are normal, average and mainstream – and we love Bridget Jones just as much as the next woman.

Bridget Jones’s Diary belongs to everyone. So should the BBC.

Fay Jones: A ban on the rough sex defence – and other benefits of this Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill

10 Jul

Fay Jones is MP for Brecon & Radnorshire.

Lockdown has provided many with the chance to spend some rare family time together – learning a new Tik Tok dance or doing a Joe Wicks workout.  But for an alarming number of people, Covid 19 has not been their biggest threat.  For those suffering from domestic abuse, enduring lockdown with an abuser will only have increased the daily fear and anguish.

Consequently, I am enormously proud that this Government made the Domestic Abuse Bill one of its biggest priorities during the pandemic.  It could have chosen to drop the legislation; it stalled during Brexit and then fell again at the general election – but such is this Government’s commitment to victims that Ministers were given license to push it through.  From my spot on the Domestic Abuse committee, I saw just how much this Government wants to champion the rights of those who have been abused, and how good a track record the Conservative Party has on this issue.

While the Labour Party has always tried to argue it sits on the side of ‘the many and not the few’ – history does not support this, particularly in the field of criminal justice.  It was a Conservative Government that brought forward The Children Act 1989.  One of the last achievements of the Major Government was the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which created the offence of harassment.  Making stalking an offence came from the Coalition Government’s Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.  Indeed, during Monday night’s debate, Theresa May rightly accepted plaudits from across the House for pushing through both the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the early stages of last night’s Domestic Abuse Bill.

The Domestic Abuse Bill will deliver meaningful change; creating a Domestic Abuse commissioner designed to map the availability of services, establishing Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders to provide victims with extra protection, prohibiting perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in family courts and legally recognising children as victims of abuse for the first time.  For many the biggest achievement of the bill is banning the ‘Rough Sex Defence’.  An enormous step in itself, this is evidence that Parliament works best when it acts cross party.  The combined campaigning strength of Mark Garnier and Harriet Harman have delivered a change in the law which will forever prevent murderers from arguing ‘they were asking for it.’

From my perspective, the Bill is also a good example of the strength of the Union.  In 2015, the Welsh Government passed its Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act.  However in November last year, the Auditor General for Wales reported a ‘fragmentation’ in service availability as there was no single agency to coordinate the system.  This is something that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner can look into – demonstrating that the ‘jagged edge of devolution’ can be overcome with tenacious, pro-Union Ministers.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is landmark legislation which will go a significant way to protecting the estimated 2.4 million victims of domestic abuse each year and it is by no means the stand-alone example of this Government putting victims first. It is the latest in a long track record of legislative milestones.  Conservatives should never shy away from this record – it is a record of leadership and collaboration which is what the public wants to see from its Government.  Above all, it is a record of standing alongside those who truly need our help.