Gender make-up of the new European Parliament

Labour Party

Gender Balance 2014

I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the gender balance of the new European Parliament.

The Parliament has always been ahead of the curve in terms of gender representation, with a steady increase in the number of female MEPs with every election since its inception. In 2009, thirty-five per cent of MEPs elected were women, and this time it was thirty-seven per cent. This somewhat puts to shame the UK parliament which currently only has twenty-two per cent female MPs with little hope for significant change at the general election next year.

Which is why is slightly surprising to see that within the UK delegation to the European Parliament, women make-up forty-one per cent of representatives (30/73). This might be in large part down to Labour efforts to get more female MEPs, with eleven of our twenty seats going to women. It’s the first time that women have made up more than fifty per cent of the Labour delegation here and it is a very encouraging sign.

The Conservatives have only six women in their ranks of nineteen, while UKIP have a rather measly seven of their twenty-four. The Conservatives have never been very good on this issue, with only fifteen per cent of their MPs in Westminster being women, and they don’t seem to be any closer to addressing the issue as I discussed in a recent blog.

I must admit that UKIP have made some improvements since last time, where they only had two female MEPs in 2009. They had even fewer by the end of the parliamentary term though, with Marta Andreasen and Nikki Sinclaire leaving the party, both citing various reasons of which the sexism and chauvinism of their colleagues were prominent. I hope that this current group of UKIP MEPs can be slightly more accommodating to their female colleagues, but I don’t have much hope.

Country by Country Break Down 2014

The Tories and UKIP are using the EU for party advantage

Labour Party

Contrary to much popular opinion put about by those with a stiletto-edged axe to grind on the European Union, the majority of businesses in Britain are in favour of EU membership. The reason is very simple: 47 per cent of our exports of to EU member states while 50 per cent of foreign direct investment is from EU countries.

Speaking to the Business for New Europe coalition tomorrow, Tony Blair, in a strong return to the domestic political scene, will point out that since major economies such as China, India, Brazil and Russia are emerging as formidable competitors in the global power game, EU membership is more important than ever. Sunday’s Observer quotes a source close to Blair as saying: “Whereas the post-war argument for Europe was about peace versus war, he [Tony] will make the point that the 21st century case for Europe is about power versus irrelevance.”

This is, I believe, the most powerful argument for being in the EU. It is, in fact, the only realistic way Britain can remain at the top table. Added to this is the statement by CBI President Sir Roger Carr last week that UK membership of the EU is the “launch pad” for much international business. Again according to the Observer, Sir Roger said, “Whatever the popular appeal maybe of withdrawal, businessmen and politicians must keep a bridge to Europe firmly in place.”

Enter the hapless Tory MP former party whip Michael Fabricant, who now goes under the title of Conservative campaign chief and wants an electoral alliance with the manically anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP). In charge of the Conservatives’ marginal seats strategy, he thinks teaming up with UKIP cold win the Tories an extra 20 seats at the general election

The huge mismatch between what is good for Britain and what the Tories believe is good for their party is becoming ever more apparent. Senior Tories are clearly prepared to go down the route of seriously considering withdrawing from the European Union in order to try and maintain their domestic political advantage.

Make no mistake, UKIP not only want to come out Europe, it is their very reason for being. Some top Tories appear to be prepared to ally with a rabid anti-EU party which is not even part of the mainstream in this country to gain a few additional seats in the House of Commons. Rarely has such brazen political opportunism been so rife on the right of British politics.

UKIP, of course, has a presence in the European Parliament. That is, however, as far as they have got. They have no MPs and only a handful of local councillors. They make a lot of noise but they are nowhere in national politics. However, if the Tories were to grace them with their support, UKIP would have a way in. This could be the beginning of the end for Britain and the European Union. We would be left without the massive trading advantages the head of the CBI has emphasised, isolated and much worse off.

Meanwhile, it is not just Tony Blair from the Labour side who recognises that Britain needs the EU. Labour Leader Ed Miliband has recently made an important speech outlining the very same case. Britain staying a member of the EU is, as they say, really a no-brainer.

The Tories’ do not really believe in their plans to win back women

Labour Party

Last week an email was leaked that originated from number 10 that contained policy suggestions of how to win back the dwindling support from women.

The Tories’ cynical attitude towards female voters was outlined starkly in the document. Examples include a proposal to criminalise forced marriage because the “signal sent out by opting not to criminalise is a bad one” – not because forced marriage is a terrible abuse of human rights but because it looks bad that it is allowed it to happen.

Although the leaking of this document means that their sly tactics are exposed, I don’t think women would have bought the Tories’ newfound concern for them either way, because their attitude towards women has always been pretty transparent.

For instance, despite calling for fathers to be “more responsible” for their children, the coalition still proposed to charge single parents (overwhelmingly women) to access the Child Support Agency. It has now been revealed that nearly half of the parents who use the service would be unable to afford the fees…  The Tories have said no word about rethinking these plans.

In addition, despite promising to be the most “family-friendly” government ever, leaked documents emerged that suggested abolishing maternity rights as a means of aiding the economy. This shows that for all the rhetoric, the Tories have no problem making collateral damage of the women of the UK.

One of the issues that struck fear into the heart of many British women was the attempt by Nadine Dorries to restrict access to abortion. The right to abortion is one that women of this country fought long and hard for and prize dearly, whether or not they ever chose to use it. Cameron, however, didn’t even care enough about the issue to read Nadine’s proposals before offering his support. Only when the protestors appeared on his front door did he bother to actually read the small print – whereupon he made another (now characteristic) hasty U-turn.

Altogether it appears to me that the vast majority of the Tory front bench view the women of this country as inconvenient vote holders – a group that needs to be considered because of their power to lose them the next election but for whom they hold no real respect or understanding. Cameron’s own treatment of women in the house has on several occasions blatantly displayed his contempt for the other sex.

The Tories’ stumbling block in the next election might well be the women’s vote. Although they recognise that women constitute the main casualties of their policies and are planning to try and remedy the problem, their hearts just aren’t in it and almost certainly never will be.

British MPs have followed common sense and voted down Nadine Dorries’ amendments

Labour Party

Although I’m back in Brussels I am following the progress of the debate on the Health and Social Care Bll going through the Commons.

In particular  I’ve followed Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP’s, toxic attempts at forcing an amendment on abortion counselling.

I was delighted to learn that not only was Dorries’ amendment defeated but Labour MPs can credit themselves with their elequent opposition to the amendment.

In addition, Dorries managed to expose herself (over the course of 58 solid minutes) as misguided and out of touch.  There were some points I found particularly startiling which I have reproduced below from the Guardian’s Politics Live blog:

“Dorries is still speaking. But MPs are getting restless. Frank Field, the Labour MP supporting her, rises to suggest that she would help her cause if she were to finish now.

But Dorries is still going on. She says she wants to see David Cameron about this. He was supportive, she says. He urged her to include the word “independent” in her amendment.

She says Evan Harris, the former Lib Dem MP, put pressure on Nick Clegg to oppose the amendment. She accuses Harris of “blackmailing” the prime minister. The health bill is being “held to ransom” by a former Lib Dem MP, she says.

Martin Horwood, a Lib Dem MP, makes a point of order. He asks if Dorries is allowed to accuse a former MP of blackmail. John Bercow says Dorries’s comment was not against the rule.

Dorries says the polls suggest 78% of people support her amendment. Among Lib Dem voters, support is particularly high. That might be because the Lib Dems support choice. And it might be why Harris is a “former Lib Dem MP”.

Dorries says all MPs will be answerable for the way they vote.”

Dorries’ assertion that 78% of people support her amendment cannot be taken seriously, there is not a poll I can find that suggests there is anything like this level of support.

Indeed a poll comissioned a earlier in the week by IPSOS Mori on behalf of BPAS (The British Pregnancy Advisory Service) revealed that 80% of the British public thought the government had no duty to encourage a reduction in the number of abortions and only 37% thought that women didn’t think hard enough before having an abortion.

It revealed the British public believe the decision to have an abortion is fundamentally a private matter, to be reached by the woman alone and that they’re making their own decisions pretty well at the moment.

Tories block plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Labour Party

When David Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party, he promised that he would push the environment up to the top of the political agenda. He has stated time and again that climate change is an issue his party feels strongly about. He has also made it clear that the Coalition’s position is to support an increase from 20% to 30% of the EU’s targets for reducing C02 emissions.

Despite these assurances from their leader, 16 Tory MEPs yesterday voted in favour of an amendment which sought to water down the European Parliament’s commitment to a 30% target. Two further Tories abstained.

The amendment in question called for a commitment to a renewed climate target for 2020 ‘if and when the conditions are right, as well as setting long-term targets to restore and give more emphasis to the incentives for innovation’. By giving in to pressure from the strong lobbying of Business Europe, and supporting the introduction of conditions to the 30% target, the Conservatives have shown a lack of understanding of the importance of fighting against climate change. With the help of the Tories, the centre-right parties in the EP managed to swing yesterday’s vote.

Unlike the Conservatives, my Labour colleagues and I fully supported the 30% target. Sticking with the old 20% target to reduce emissions from the current rate of 17.4% (a mere 2.6% increase) by 2020 is not a credible aim if the EU has genuine ambitions to lead the world in the fight against climate change. Many people agree with me on this point. In the run up to the vote I received literally hundreds of emails from my constituents calling for all MEPs to fully support the 30% reduction target.

Since the Socialist group is strongly against imposing unwelcome conditions on the EU’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we opted yesterday to vote against the report as a whole. We refuse to bow to pressure from the centre-right MEPs, who, it is clear, are not committed to tackling climate change. Their action has undermined both the EU’s credibility in global climate change negotiations and the EU’s economic recovery.

The appalling position of women elsewhere must not blind us to the dire state of our own.

Labour Party

Today the Guardian published an interview piece with Harriet Harman; talking about the state of women’s empowerment and political involvement both within the UK and the democratising countries of North Africa. 

The state of women’s rights in the Arab Spring countries is one of the most salient current topics within women’s politics. It is true that the danger posed to women in that region and the possibility of regression in terms of women’s rights is a major concern at the moment and one which the Women and Equalities Committee in the Parliament is taking seriously. On Monday we have a workshop discussing how the EU can best force the issue of women’s rights and empowerment onto the democratising agendas of Egypt and Tunisia. To this end, I support Harriet’s demands that aid to the region be tied to the observance of women’s rights. This opportunity to change the landscape for women in that region of the world must not be missed. 

However, often by focussing on problems overseas, by which dismal standards the UK does compare favourably, it can often blind us to the very real problems that still exist within our own country. This blindness can often lead us into hypocrisy. This is pointed out by Harriet when she notes that the UK government is sending delegations of men to other countries to lecture about women’s rights since our international development office has no women. 

The right that the Conservative government has to lecture that region on women’s rights is also dubious since, for example, whilst condemning the practice of Female Genital Mutilation in Africa, it has demolished services set up by the Labour government to prevent FGM occurring on its own soil. This means more women within the UK will now be vulnerable to this abominable practice. We must also remember that this is the same government whose leader still finds it acceptable to make sexist comments to women in Parliament and whose party is so entirely divorced from the reality of most women’s lives that they have almost no idea how unfairly their policies impact upon women in the UK.

The Labour Party and the women within it are rightfully fighting for women in the UK, battling against the return of a fundamentally patriarchal and misogynist political group, even on time-worn battlegrounds such as abortion rights. Our Labour MEPs are also fighting for women in terms of maternity leave, gender pay gaps, preventing violence against women and reminding member states how their policies need to take the effect upon women into consideration. Having said this however, we have still never had a female leader and women remain underrepresented within the party, particularly in Westminster.

I believe Labour is different from the Conservatives. In terms of  gender empowerment the Labour Party is firmly within this century. The Tories, as Harriet Harman said, are still living in the last. But we need to do more. We cannot be complacent simply because the Tories are so much worse. This is why I support Harriet’s demands for a change in our leadership elections to ensure that women are part of the leadership and for a 50-50 gender balance of elected representatives. Our country is half women. Whilst men should also fight for women, women need to be in power to represent women and not just in Africa.

Consensus on the Coalition’s UK-EU Relationship at Kingston University

Labour Party

You would have thought that three MEPs from three different political parties debating the relationship between the present British government and the European Union would have been fraught with heated debate, not to say downright disagreement.

Not so on Saturday afternoon at Kingston University when Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, Jean Lambert MEP from the Green Party and I discussed the issue with a group of students. It was unfortunate there was no representative from the Liberal-Democrats as this may have added a different perspective.

My view is that the UK has always had a semi-detached relationship with the EU whichever party is in power. Tony Blair talked about being at the heart of Europe but failed to take the UK into the Euro.  In addition, we are not in the Schengen agreement, which, amongst other things, does away with passports.

However, there would appear to be a fault line in the present Coalition government in that the Tories have a strong and vociferous Eurosceptic wing while one of the defining characteristics of the Liberal Democrats has always been that they are enthusiastically pro-European.

This is, I’m sure, one of the reasons David Cameron has accepted the EU Council of Ministers decision that the EU budget should rise by 2.9% this year rather than pushing for the freeze demanded by his Eurosceptic wing.  It’s also one of the reasons he is not putting Nicolas Sarkozy’s and Angela Merkel’s demands for a change to the Lisbon Treaty to allow greater stability for the Euro to a referendum in this country. (You will remember that a referendum on any EU treaty change was one of the Tories’ manifesto promises in the 2010 general election).

What is, however very clear is that much more power now resides in the EU. The Lisbon Treaty extended this and the establishment of the EU External Action Service only underlines the extent of EU’s reach.

Both Charles and Jean largely agreed with this analysis. Charles Tannock, a supporter of further EU enlargement, talked about the benefits of EU membership concentrating on trade and the economy.  He also pointed out that the increasing use of English within the EU, which received an enormous boost after the 2004 enlargement, gave the British a big advantage.

Jean raised an interesting point about the rise of fringe parties in the UK such as UKIP and the BNP and elsewhere, notably the Tea Party in the United States. Manistream parties should learn from these new movements, what Jean called “angry politics”. While maybe not exactly related to the Coalition government and the EU-UK relationship it was a powerful and important point.

My thanks to the organisers of the event from Kingston University – Dr Atsuko Ichijo, Dr Robin Pettitt and Dr Elizabeth Evans for putting on an excellent programme and also for giving up their Saturday afternoon.

Coalition Goverment says no to EU Anti-Trafficking Measures

Labour Party

As regular readers of my blog will be aware,  I have written before about the EU’s new human trafficking directive and also ran a campaign against the Metropolitan Police Authorities proposed closure of their specialised unit dealing with this matter.  This issue has never seemed to me to be particularly partisan, it being widely accepted that trafficking causes untold misery and ruins the lives of many, especially women and children.  So I could not believe it when I heard about the coalition government’s plan to ‘opt-out’ of the new directive specifically designed to help combat trafficking.

For me,  and I hope everyone else, the most important aspect of the directive is its focus on protecting the victims of trafficking.  Such protection would mean that people who are trafficked into criminal enterprises in the UK, such as the sex trade or cannabis farming, could not be charged over false immigration papers forced on them by the gang responsible for their move. 

The new directive,  still currently in committee, also looks to create a single EU wide definition of trafficking and allow for the law courts to try people who commit trafficking offences in another EU state.  This is crucial to the combating of trafficking since many of the crimes that help sustain the practice, such as document forgery, kidnapping, intimidation and violence will occur in another country before the victim has reached the UK. 

The directive will allow for trafficking crimes to be prosecuted in UK courts, thereby helping to stop the industry of trafficking as well as bring criminals to justice.  The anti-trafficking measures seem right and proper to me.  However,  a Home Office statement in early August said that there were already ample measures in place to combat trafficking in the UK.  An interesting view since, in June this year, an umbrella group of charities and NGOs released a study saying that the anti-trafficking measures in the UK were woefully inadequate.   

I am not alone in my outrage, with leading charities criticising the decision as well as Denis MacShane writing to Nick Clegg, asking him to persuade the Tories to change their mind. 

It is deeply depressing to think that the Conservatives would make a decision that could have a huge impact on the effectiveness of our police force in combating human trafficking on the basis of the odious and irrational anti-European stance.  David Cameron and William Hague have said that they will not cede powers to the EU without a referendum (though they have already put the lie to that particular promise), so I can’t help but feel that the rejection of a powerful and necessary tool in the fight against such an egregious crime is all part of some pathetic political posturing. The idea we would even have to ask the (supposedly) pro-European Clegg to persuade the Tories to think again on this crucial issue is very, very worrying.

Plans agreed for the new European Diplomatic Service

Labour Party

Today the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of plans to establish the new European External Action Service (EEAS).

I am very pleased to see that there will be a strong commitment to gender balance in recruiting staff to the new body, which will effectively act as the EU diplomatic service.  This is due in no small part to our very own Baroness Cathy Ashton who as High Representative (HR) for external affairs will head up the EEAS.  Cathy is, and always has been, a strong advocate on behalf of women, and I was heartened to hear her say earlier this week that there are good women candidates applying for posts at all levels in the EEAS.

Based in Brussels, the EEAS will also have an important human rights remit, something which Labour MEPs have worked hard to encourage.

In another welcome move, we now know that the Service’s budgetary accountability to Parliament is guaranteed, and that the European Parliament will have full budget discharge rights.

As we took the final vote on the EEAS in the European Parliament earlier today, I noticed that the ECR Group, the Tories in other words, voted in favour.  This was interesting since their usual policy is to either vote against or abstain on almost everything in order to demonstrate their Euroscepticism.

But not this time.  What is more, I was told by a tweety little bird that David Cameron used heavy persuasion to get his MEPs to support the EEAS resolution. 

It’s been a long time since I have seen such a swift and brutal U-turn as the one David Cameron is doing on Europe.  I wonder what all those anti-European MPs who voted for him think about the way he’s going now.  Not to mention the Tory grassroots.

Liberal Democrats discomfited by the most right wing budget since Margaret Thatcher

Labour Party

Business Secretary Vince Cable, according to Harriet Harman, has gone from ‘national treasure’ to the ‘Treasury poodle’. Referring to both Mr Cable and his beleaguered Lib-Dem Coalition colleagues, Harriet told the House of Commons that while the Labour Party fought to support jobs for people, the Lib-Dems sought to secure jobs for themselves.

Harriet is, of course, right.  By any stretch of the imagination, yesterday’s budget, the most right-wing since the Thatcher Government, demonstrated just how hollow the Lib- Dems election campaign pledges have turned out to be.

A mere 50 days ago the Deputy PM (Nick Clegg) denounced the public expenditure cuts favoured by the Tory Party in their general election campaign. Yet in yesterday’s budget the Lib-Dems showed support for virtually everything they had fought so hard against. It was difficult to watch, both in terms of content and the reactions of the junior members of the Coalition.

While the Chancellor told us to brace ourselves for a series of cuts and VAT hikes, I watched closely at how uncomfortable Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, and Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander, looked despite being perfectly positioned either side of their Conservative Chancellor.

In contrast, I have not seen a performance as good as the one given by Harriet Harman for a very long time. She spoke with great passion and directed her reaction to the Budget not at the Conservatives, or the Con Lib-Dem coalition, but at the Liberal Democrats themselves. ‘How could they let down everyone who voted for them – how could they let the Tories so exploit them?’ she bellowed to the chamber. This budget she said was driven by ideology rather than economics.

In questioning quite how the Lib Dems could approve decisions they did not support less than two months ago Harriet exposed the fragility of the Con-Dem coalition.  In this budget the Lib-Dems have had to swallow almost everything they have always fought against. It begs the huge question, “will they be able to deliver their MPs and activists a second time?”