Tag Archive: All Women Shortlists


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International Women’s Day is over for another year. The purple and green banners have come down and the men of the left have returned, blinking and disorientated to the spotlight and the platforms.

But feminism and its ugly corollary sexism is going nowhere. We still live in a world in which women are vastly under-represented in terms of power in almost every aspect of life. We still live in a country whose politics reflect that under-representation. The Lord Rennard accusations may have faded into last week’s chip paper, but the culture they briefly exposed will take more than a few headlines to dismantle. That culture will take good women standing shoulder-to shoulder with good men to challenge and expose the abuses of power when they happen. That is what stops singular abuses from becoming a culture of permissiveness.

Labour know that the representation of women is vital not just to change this culture but to ensure we act as a truly representative democracy. One that reflects the country we live in. Parliament must have more women. It should also have more working class candidates, more candidates from non-professional backgrounds, more BME candidates. We need to think about how we achieve that. But these must be seen as complimentary not competing aims. We cannot allow our desire to do everything stop us from doing anything.

The Tories do not recognise this. They have a tin ear when it comes to the issue of women’s representation, and their lack of female-friendly policies is costing them in the polls.

Despite the headlines being dominated by their female keynote speaker, at the ConservativeHome Victory 2015 conference last week, you would have had to wait four hours before seeing a woman on the platform. Of the 22 advertised speakers, only seven were women and three of those were on the “how to win amongst women” panel. That’s some spectacular not getting it right there. Victory is harder to achieve when you ignore half the population.

Labour – on the other hand – seems to be doing significantly better, despite the problems with Open selections that Mark identified this morning. The allocation of the All Women Shortlists in target seats tells a really interesting story of a real confidence in women as campaigners. Seats with a more than a wafer-thin majority used to be ones where the party was nervous of AWS – that’s clearly no longer true. AWS seats are being fought against key marginal but also in seats where the fight will be tougher. A new confidence not just in the electorate to elect women, but also in women candidates to be just as capable of fighting these seats has emerged.

There is an incredible roster of women candidates already selected about whom I’m really excited. Not because they’re women, but because they are formidable campaigners. They are taking the fight to the Tories every single day. Our Parliament will be symbolically richer for their being elected and our Party will be significantly stronger for having them playing leading roles. These women embody true merit, and ensure that our Party does so too.

We have some way to go before we can say we have a politics that is truly representative. The Tories and the Lib Dems have a lot further to go than we do. But I feel genuinely positive about the path we are on and our ability to tread it confidently.

This post first appeared on LabourList.

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All Women Shortlists

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By Emma | 2 comments

The last week has shown more than ever how vital All Women Shortlists are. Changing the culture of politics away from the misogynistic boys club that tells women to accept sexual harassment as part of the price they pay for being political will take more than fine words. It needs real, concerted action from all parties.

Now I can’t do much to affect the numbers in other Parties. They will go their own way.

The Lib Dems are encouraging their MPs to stay on for the next election to take advantage of their incumbency factor. Given that Fabian Research shows that five of their ten most vulnerable seats are held by women (and they only have seven overall). The Lib Dems may have had a good week, but they would have to produce miracles to keep all of these women in their seats. The other two are in constituencies where the swing against the Lib Dems in Eastleigh of 14% would also see them lose.

The Tories have done better in selecting female candidates and their number of women MPs was raised significantly by the A list at the last election to a whopping 16% of their MPs. But the A-List has been abandoned. There is a new assertiveness from Tory activists, but they look like this:

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A representative bunch I’m sure you’ll agree.

Some – especially Lib Dems – will argue that the imbalance in representation is a result of first past the post. But on current evidence, this is extremely hard to prove. The European election uses PR and while Labour, the Greens and to be fair, the Lib Dems have reasonably equal representation, the other Parties don’t – particularly the Tories and UKIP. So the UK delegation to the EU Parliament as a whole is still nearly two thirds male. Nor is this a problem that only occurs at a national level. In the 2010 Census of Councillors, 68% were male. This is clearly a problem at every level of elected politics.

Equally, it is a problem with the institutions that surround politics. While there are some superb women in political commentary, in think tanks and in the media, there are far too few. The BBC have never had a female Chief Political Correspondent  for example, and Newsnight and the Today Programme are roundly criticised for having far too few female guests.

Think tanks are massively imbalanced too, with men taking both the lion’s share of the roles and also dominating those roles where they will learn the kind of skills – like public speaking and press writing – so likely to come in handy when it comes to getting selected to be a candidate.

It is quite clear from the figures that Labour’s efforts – through balanced lists at European level and All Women Shortlists for the House of Commons that our methods for changing the equality of representation are working. This must continue until by changing the cultural signifiers, we change the culture. All positive discrimination should have the initial impact simply of rebalancing the inequality it finds. But ultimately it should be possible that this rebalancing should change the culture around it. Normalise that equality.

In that normalisation, the process should make itself obsolete. Eventually, All Women Shortlists and other measures to encourage female candidates should become unnecessary. They should and must be a temporary measure that corrects a long-standing historical imbalance and forces wider cultural change. But sadly, as we have seen over the last week, despite increases in female representation at many levels, that cultural change – while started – is still lagging. We are still a long way from equality.

We have some amazing women in the Labour Party. Those who have made it to the top are great role models. These women recognise the value of bringing up other great women behind them. AWS is sadly still essential to doing that.

While that remains the case, all Labour members – male and female – who recognise the value of equality should continue to champion AWS as the way Labour have successfully made themselves the most representative party in the UK Parliament and in the European Parliament.

this post first appeared on The Honeyball Buzz.

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I support Harriet Harman’s suggestion that we formalise the lucky situation we find ourselves in at the moment where we have a balanced representation at the top of the ticket. If anyone feels that it isn’t necessary to do this in the modern Labour Party, I tell that that I was called a “Barmy  Ballbuster” by a fellow Party member on Twitter for even suggesting it’s something we could look at.

All Women Shortlists have served us well and should remain until we find that we have achieved stable gender parity. I think quotas are vital in the world we live in. As has been shown by the dreadful recruitment rate in the Lib Dems and the lack of A-list success in the Tories, All Women Shortlists has consistently been proved to be the method that works best in ensuring that we get a more and increasingly representative party in Parliament.

But great women candidates don’t appear from nowhere. There need to be far greater support for women taking positions in the party at all levels to give them the experience and confidence to come through and challenge – particularly in areas that have traditionally been male dominated. We also need to make sure working class women are also coming through, and getting the support and networks that they need to continue to make our representative of the working class.

I support the idea of a 50% quota for women in the cabinet. The idea that this will stop “the best candidates” is a straw man. For any job, there is no perfect candidate, but a set of criteria, and a number of candidates who match this criteria to a greater or lesser extent. All this does is add an extra level of criteria in the essential category. In politics we all know that there have always been other factors than simply “merit” in appointing people, and that this is true in all parties. Factionalism is far more damaging to politics than gender balancing but is allowed to carry on regardless as it’s an informal rather than a positive and formal rebalancing.

We have a great deal of talented women in Parliament – certainly more than enough to make up half a cabinet of experienced women in Parliament, and a new generation of women in the new intake who can be inspired to take these leadership roles on. A cabinet with for example – Anne Begg, Karen Buck, Yvette Cooper, Angela Eagle, Harriet Harman, Meg Hillier, Margaret Hodge, Tessa Jowell, Meg Munn, Dawn Primarolo, Joan Ruddock and Joan Walley – is not a cabinet stuffed with also-rans but is vibrant and interestingly diverse in terms of political positioning (something I think would be an inevitable part of making the pool you are choosing from smaller).

I hope this wouldn’t be a permanent measure, but one designed to permanently change the culture until it makes itself unnecessary – like All Women Shortlists.

Anyone unlikely to vote for a party based on this issue alone, is always going to be unlikely to vote Labour. On the other hand, this single measure gives us back a sense of radicalism and transformative politics that has been missing from the Labour Party for a while. It could have the power to further inspire the base, particularly the women, and to bring in a generation of women who see Labour taking real and direct action to improve our reflection of them in Parliament.

Traditional models of political engagement for the working classes have largely broken down. It used to be that the unions were the best recruiting ground, but with workplaces becoming smaller and more atomised, unions have had less reach to the 21st Century working class, the telesales workers and shop assistants who are being exploited as much, if not more, than ever. The Labour Party must work – with unions where possible – to bring together small businesses and entrepreneurs with the workers they need to find solutions that ensure decent wages and lifestyles but also allow economic growth and don’t stifle the best of industry.

Unions have some work to do on themselves to transform into 21st century vehicles for the aspirations and needs of the modern working class. Labour should support them as close but critical friends in this process. The union link is essential to Labour, but equally we need to represent the majority of Britain. We need to help unions to find a way to do that with us.

A supporters network is an interesting idea, but I don’t think it is the solution to why busy people aren’t getting involved in politics. I believe Labour could make far more of the Socialist Societies who already offer those with a particular interest to engage with Labour on a less formal basis. Socialist Society members who are not members of other parties are already allowed to vote as part of the affiliates group in Labour’s electoral college, and if the Societies are better strengthened and promoted they can work in much the way a supporters network would while allowing a legitimate route for policy engagement from sympathetic non-members.

We should also work with unions and Socialist Societies to engage their members in questions about the Party. Asking unions to survey their members regularly to find out what they expect from their affiliation fees would be a useful and interesting and nuanced exercise and would tell us more than simply expecting their General Secretaries to speak for them.  

At their best, socialist societies act as a perfect bridge between expert communities and the party. On housing, environment, science, law, education, health and with LGBT, Jewish, Tamil, Chinese, disabled, student and Irish communities, Christian socialists and the broad interests of the Fabians and the Labour Clubs, the Socialist Societies offer the unique combination of practitioner and campaigner expertise and Socialist beliefs.

There is a wealth of knowledge in these organisations, and a depth of commitment to bettering the policies of the Labour Party as a result. We can be proud historically of the contribution we have made to debates both in our own expert contributions and our ability to pull in knowledge from outside the party.

I bow to those better placed to talk about community organising, and look forward to hearing about how the Movement for Change is going to work. I add the caveat that it must be real and genuinely of the grassroots. If it becomes another way for the well connected to add a feather to their already over-stuffed caps it will fail.

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In 2014/15 (and, despite recent speculation, almost certainly not before) Labour are going to go to the voters of Britain with a vision for Government. This is my first in an occasional series where I give my best attempts to think about what I’d like to see articulated in that vision. These are not policy ideas, though I will offer those elsewhere, but principles that  should form the basis of Labour’s policy making. Here I will be posing questions that should help Labour to establish how we move the arguments for Socialism forward and make it relevant to the 21st century and it’s new challenges. I will also start to offer my answers to those questions.

Equality is a surprisingly thorny concept. What seems like a self-evident statement –  all people are born equal, should be treated equally and have an equal chance to achieve success and happiness - is so far from true in any recognisable way in the world we live in.  Because we live in a world and country where people’s life chances are very much determined by their the family they are born into and by the village, town, city, region and country they are born in.

Any movement towards equalising society means that some people’s children will not have the differential advantages that they have had and have come to expect – that’s what equalising means. As a result, the less talented children of the wealthy could lose financially (though there are real and good arguments to be made that they gain societally). Allowing natural losers among small but extremely powerful and vocal groups to naturally fail is largely considered to be bad politics, even if it’s good policy. So despite the obviousness of the self-evident statement, we do nothing of the sort, nor do we have, or even talk of aspiring to, policies in place that would result in such a society.

Instead, we comfort ourselves with rising tide policies that aspire to life all the boats while sending lifeboats to those most in need. We address severe poverty by alleviating the worst symptoms and we pull people over the line from absolute poverty to relative poverty. All of which is admirable, but does nothing, not a jot, to address inequality. But here’s the thing no one ever says: addressing just one group in society, whether it be through leaving it to trickle down economics or through focusing solely on poverty reduction will not address inequality. Don’t get me wrong, poverty reduction is important. But it’s a reactive measure to the societal problem of inequality. It is not a solution to that problem.

In recent years, the definition of inequality has itself been under question. There have been political tensions both across the political spectrum and within the Party between those who believe that we should focus on equality of outcome and those who believe we should focus on equality of opportunity and those who continue to argue for an equality of outcome.

The ultimate effects of such differing policies would have extremely different effects on society. A meritocracy is a far easier sell, but practically impossible to achieve from an uneven base. While we can all agree that people should rise and fall on their merits, those with more will have far greater chances to embellish their talents than those with less. I simply don’t believe that a true meritocracy is achievable without an even base to work from, and I don’t believe an even base to work from is achievable through a focus on meritocracy. So while meritocracy must be the ultimate aim, we can actually only achieve such a system through a focus now on equality of outcomes.

It is here that the equalities argument usually runs headlong into those who promote fairness rather than equality. Fairness is a word with increasing cache in modern politics, and is at least as often employed by the right than it is by the left. It is an even trickier concept that equality, as it is even more nebulous. Fairness is often deployed as an argument against measures to promote equality (for example, many argue that a flat tax is fairer, despite the fact that it would lead to vast disparities in effect on richer and poorer households). Fairness has come to mean the support of the short term interests of those who lose out to equalities measures, and not the support of the long term interests of gain to the wider society.

Labour has a decent record when it comes to understanding the tensions between fairness and equality and bringing in gradualist measures that promote long term equality at the cost of shortsighted fairness. Internal measures such as gender quotas for the cabinet and All Women Shortlists have proved that we have done the thinking between these two issues and have picked a side that we are moving towards gradually. I am proud of these measures and will be prouder still when they are abolished as no longer necessary. Again I see them not as the ultimate goal, but as steps that must be taken before meritocracy is possible. When you look at the difference between the Labour and Government benches in the House of Commons, you can see that we are making progress. When you lo0k at the way the cuts will affect all strands of equalities, including income and gender, you realise how far we as a society have to go.

Labour are not a revolutionary party, and Britain is not a revolutionary country. We need to think about these matters not like we can wish an equal society into place tomorrow, but as we can work towards one every day. We need to focus not just on the goal but on the journey. Meritocracy is a fine ideal, but is not one that is practicable in current society. Labour must ensure that its work is in changing society in practical and real ways to achieve a place where meritocracy is possible, not trying to impose an unworkable meritocracy at the expense of those in society who would benefit least at present. Meritocracy must be the goal, and the goal must be part of our rhetoric. But there is a great deal of difference between goals and journeys and if we don’t accept that difference and write policies that are attuned to it we will achieve neither goal nor journey. We will get lost.

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Idealism and Realism

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By Emma | No comments yet.

This column first appeared on Labour List:

I am an idealist. I look at Britain, and I think about how I want to take its best and make it better. I am a realist. I look at Britain and see the problems we have and the greater problems we face and I want to make it better.

Politics is the art of balancing realism and idealism. Too much realism, we become overwhelmed by the problems, unable to imagine our way out. Too much idealism we lose touch with voters, leaving them behind and wondering at how different our perception is from theirs. The Labour Party cannot and must not devise policies for an ideal world, but for the world in which we will find ourselves in 2015. We need to offer realistic ways to solve real problems in ways that speak to our ideals.

I believe the Labour Party at its best is about promoting active change; about pursuing progress towards equality not simply legislating against the worst effects of inequality. We are not a conservative party by name or by nature. We are a party of work and of workers, we strive. Ideally we would live in a society in which all people were treated equally, had equal opportunities to succeed and where health, wealth, race and gender were not factors in people’s ability to live happy and fulfilled lives. But if the Labour Party were to base its policy making on the assumption of such a society, it would make it harder to achieve. In order to achieve such a society, for the moment we must continue to legislate to overcome the inequalities that exist.

The upper echelons of British life do not reflect the diversity contained within this great nation. This is the reality. No amount of wishing it were otherwise will make it change. The only thing that will change it is action. In an unequal world, we can choose either to perpetuate inequality by doing nothing, behaving as if we exist in a vacuum, or we can challenge inequality by taking action against it. There is not a third way.

We cannot afford to adopt the liberal idealist position that affirmative action is a form of discrimination and therefore automatically bad. The Liberal Democrats have largely adopted this position, and as a result are a very white, male middle class party. I strongly believe that this lack of membership and representation from those most affected by the cuts is what is in part to blame for their inability to create for themselves a narrative that understands their public perception.

All actions that change the balance of society discriminate against the former winners, from slave owners who lost profits in the abolition of the slave trade to men who have fewer options in seats they can apply for as Labour candidates (and just to be completely clear, I am in no way suggesting a moral equivalence here). Taxes take money from the rich and pay for services enjoyed by all. Tax money that is spent on one group in society is not then available for others. All choices are discrimination. If we are realistic about that, then we can have the strength to stand up and make the right choices.

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More on Quotas

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By Emma | 2 comments

I think this idea is absolutely the right thing to do, and this is absolutely the right time to do it.

 The idea that this will stop “the best candidate” is a straw man. For any job, there is no perfect candidate, but a set of criteria, and a number of candidates who match this criteria to a greater or lesser extent. All this does is add an extra level of criteria in the essential catagory. In politics we all know that there have always been other factors than simply “merit” in appointing people, and that this is true in all parties. Factionalism is far more damaging to politics than gender balancing but is allowed to carry on regardless as it’s an informal rather than a positive and formal rebalancing.

I hope this wouldn’t be a permanent measure, but one designed to permanently change the culture until it makes itself unnecessary – like All Women Shortlists.

 Politically, I don’t think this can hurts us. Anyone unlikely to vote for a party based on this issue alone, is always going to be unlikely to vote Labour. On the other hand, this single measure gives us back a sense of radicalism and transformative politics that has been missing from the Labour Party for a while. It could have the power to further inspire the base, particularly the women, and to bring in a generation of feminists who see Labour taking real and direct action to improve our offer to women in politics.

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It will surprise precisely nobody that I think Harriet Harman is absolutely right in her call for 50% of the Shadow Cabinet to be made up of women. We have a great deal of talented women in Parliament – certainly more than enough to make up half a cabinet of experienced women in Parliament, and a new generation of women in the new intake who can be inspired to take these leadership roles on. A cabinet with for example –  Anne Begg, Karen Buck, Yvette Cooper, Angela Eagle, Harriet Harman, Meg Hillier, Margaret Hodge, Tessa Jowell, Meg Munn, Dawn Primarolo, Joan Ruddock and Joan Walley is not a cabinet stuffed with also-rans but is vibrant and interestingly diverse in terms of political positioning (something I think would be an inevitable part of making the pool you are choosing from smaller).

I think quotas are vital in the world we live in. As has been shown by the dreadful recruitment rate in the Lib Dems and the lack of A-list success in the Tories, All Women Shortlists has consistently been proved to be the method that works best in ensuring that we get a more and increasingly representative party in Parliament.

But great women candidates don’t appear from nowhere. There need to be far greater support for women taking positions in the party at all levels to give them the experience and confidence to come through and challenge – particularly inareas that have traditionally been male dominated. We need to make sure working class women are also coming through, a d getting the support and networks that they need to continue to make our representative of the working class.

So I applaud Harriet today, and look forward to action in the future, led by changes at the top but in conjunction with strong grassroots action.

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1. Will you restore the vote to conference, and if so, what measures beyond this would you take to make our party more democratic?

2. What will you do to ensure that the Labour Party Leadership and cabinet reflect the diversity of our membership and of Britain?

3. How should  a left-of-centre party, in opposition to a Right-of-Centre coalition conduct itself in opposition?

4. If you were forced in this contest to be defined by one key policy proposal, what would it be?

5. How do we articulate a progressive and (small l) liberal vision of an active and pro-active state?

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