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:
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.