Women in the House, driverless Tube trains and all-year schools

Has feminism stalled? I've complained before that politics doesn't reflect the real world, and the antics at last week's PMQs show that nothing has changed

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The Independent Online

Images of women that stick in your mind for all the wrong reasons: Ed Miliband lining up his female MPs and shadow ministers for last week's Prime Minister's Questions, objectifying them and totally missing the point; Samantha Cameron (successful businesswoman), Frances Osborne and Ffion Hague (both successful authors) photographed dollied up in evening clothes on the arms of their husbands at a Tory fund-raising ball last week.

The beautiful and talented Kristin Scott Thomas, starring with Ralph Fiennes' in the new Dickens movie as the mother (in a frumpy wig) of his young lover, complains that at 53, all she gets are supporting roles, "where it's not about me but the man and woman elsewhere … it gets very lonely". Ralph, her screen lover in the English Patient, is still allowed to have sexual potency on screen – she's not.

Has feminism stalled? I've complained before that politics doesn't reflect the real world, and the antics at last week's PMQs show that nothing has changed. Look at the numbers – just 34 per cent of Labour MPs are female, and 16 per cent of Tories. Shocking. It feel as if every week another female MP decides that she's had enough, depleting numbers even further. I can't understand why Cameron and co (and let's not forget the Liberal Democrats with their weird attitude to sexual harassment) fail to see that women are fundamental to their success.

For the electorate, the battle has been won; turn on the television, and women take centre stage. From Emmerdale and EastEnders to Corrie, modern soaps are built around strong characters that the audience can relate to. My favourite dramas, The Bridge, Borgen, Homeland and Stella, are constructed around difficult women. Sadly the cinema, like Westminster, seems mired in a bygone age, believing that men of 60 can pull girls young enough to be their granddaughters.

Feminism has adapted to the times; which is why canny old bird Madonna linked up with Pussy Riot to reinvigorate her brand (she is the ultimate psychic vampire), to the disgust of some band members who claim her introduction to the group at a charity concert in New York undermined the original intentions of the collective, which was set up to stage illegal performances in public places. Pussy Riot aren't punks, but subversive performance artists, and having Madonna's blessing sanitises their message. We can argue about whether or not Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus are feminists as they claim, but both convey a strong message of women in control to their millions of fans.

So why is politics such a backwater? The people who make decisions about the big issues that affect our lives – from health to environment, to housing and social care – are overwhelmingly male. You can tell me that it doesn't matter – that we need the right decisions, not ones made by a box-ticking quota system – but I will never believe you. In every aspect of my life, I see women doing well. But when it comes to democracy, women seem unable to take strength from Beyoncé and co and find a way to destroy the smug male-ocracy. Why should we have to sign up to their rules when we should be making our own?

Tube boob

When I read Mark Steel's column in Friday's Independent claiming a poll proved there was "wide public support" for the Tube strike that brought chaos and misery to Londoners last week, I thought I'd investigate further. The poll by Survation was conducted on behalf of the transport workers' union the RMT, led by Bob Crow. The pollsters asked 1,008 people (out of four million who use the Tube daily) whether they were concerned about the closure of ticket offices. A majority were, but a third weren't bothered. Of this allegedly representative sample, taken between 9am and 9pm at busy stations (starting after a large number of staff will have arrived at work), only 589 respondents were travelling to work, and only half travelled daily.

Nearly 200 of those questioned said they only used the Tube once a year – do we care what they think? I reckon Survation's poll isn't quite the yes vote that Mr Crow and Mr Steel claim. Running the Tube 24 hours a day on some lines is far more important than manned ticket offices. We live in an age of technological innovation, soon there will be driverless trains on every line. Mr Crow is right to be concerned about his members losing their jobs, but he can't halt progress.

Walking from Clerkenwell to Chelsea during the strike, the main hazard I encountered was cyclists using the pavement. I wore my new high-tech exercise band which told me I'd taken 10,000 steps. Hoorah! Another chocolate biscuit, please.

Holiday rip-offs

When Paul Cookson tried to book a holiday at Center Parcs with his seven-year-old daughter, he discovered prices increased from £699 to £999 during the half-term break. Incensed, he vented his rage on Facebook, and it went viral. Now, 160,000 people have signed an e-petition on the Government's website calling for an end to price hikes during school holidays, and it will be discussed by MPs on 24 February. A poll of 2,000 parents found that 55 per cent reckon that it is worth paying a fine for taking their children out of school during term time.

Some tour operators would like the summer break to be staggered over 12 weeks, spreading the time during which families go on holiday, but there's no guarantee prices would fall by very much. Perhaps the Education Secretary Michael Gove should investigate an idea put forward by Independent reader Tim Flynn, who says schools should stay open 52 weeks of the year, claiming "buildings don't need holidays", and modern technology means that learning doesn't need to be so class-based. Of course exams happen at fixed times, but all-year schooling with teachers holidaying in shifts and parents booking time out by prior arrangement, sounds like a very good idea.

Cheap and profitable

The battle between rival pound shops has gone digital; the founder of Poundland, Steve Smith (who sold his shares for £50m in 2002 – that's a lot of £1 purchases), is launching online store poundshop.com on Tuesday (£20 minimum order, £3 delivery charge), but he has been pipped to the virtual cash till by rival site hereforapound.com, launched by Donna and Matt Baker last week, which offers free delivery on orders over £30. A quick perusal of their website reveals it will appeal to anyone looking for custard, crisps, instant soups and tinned fruit; in other words, not me. Bargains are seductive though, and if these websites are successful it could mean even more empty shops on the high street.