All Women Shortlists: Guest Blog by Emma Burnell

Labour Party

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.

Emma is a socialist, feminist, environmentalist and proud long-standing Labour member. She is a regular contributor to Labour List and has her own blog, Scarlet Standard.

The Pessimism of the Right

Labour Party

When my report on Early Years Learning recently went through the European Parliament it received 506 votes out of the 588 MEPs who were in attendance that day.  All the Tories there abstained. 

Nothing unusual there, but something that I didn’t write about at the time was Daniel Hannan’s ‘explanation of vote’.  Explanations of vote can either be submitted verbally in the chamber after the vote or in writing later.  Not everyone does them, and the people who do often reserve them for when it is particularly important that some explanation is offered for the way they voted.  I will reproduce in full what Mr. Hannan said that day, but if you would like to read it for yourself, then follow the link here:

Daniel Hannan (ECR).Madam President, last summer I had the pleasure of visiting your constituency, and one day I took my children to the beach. I remember watching my two little girls building a sand castle, oblivious to the incoming tide, so captivated were they with the shells and twigs with which they were decorating their work.

I had not the heart to point out to them that the tide was coming in, and today I felt rather the same way as I read through our voting list. We have these epochal events – this economic crisis on our border, this collapse in our share of world GDP – and here we are talking about early years learning, about our responsibilities to the International Labour Organization, and about whether Sarajevo should be a European city of culture.

Let me give you the raw and scary statistics: in 1974, the nations of Western Europe accounted for 36% of world GDP; today it is 26%; in 2020 it will be 15%. While we are worrying about early years learning, putting out all our propaganda about drawing Europe together, and producing The Raspberry Ice Cream War, and while our children are being encouraged to read the unintentionally hilarious ‘Captain Euro’, our part of the world is being overtaken by more virile countries that have learned the benefits of decentralisation and the dispersal of power.

Surely the time is coming when all our pomp of yesterday will be one with Nineveh and Tyre?

The Madam President he addressed was British Liberal-Democrat Diana Wallis who was presiding over the session that day. 

I’m beginning to worry about Mr. Hannan, I fear he may be a little melancholy.  The unbridled pessimism that he comes out with is frankly frightening.  I wrote a blog earlier this week in response to his comments on the Today programme on the sovereign debt crisis in Greece, which were in a similar vein.  If you didn’t read it, you can do so here

This pessimism is everywhere on the right.  It was discussed at length when Ed Miliband came to the European Parliament and addressed a full sitting the Socialists and Democrats group. The depressing and unavoidable fact was that most people in that room, and the S&D has at least one MEP from each member state, was from a party that was in opposition in the own country.  Indeed, the S&D is the opposition group in the European Parliament, with the centre right European People’s Party holding more seats, though not an overall majority.

As Ed said during his visit, Labour’s message and beliefs could not be more important than right now.  Across Europe there is a feeling of doom and pessimism from the centre right parties that hold government across most of the EU member states. They speak of the necessity of far-reaching cuts affecting the services that make a difference to people’s lives.  This is all being portrayed as the inevitable result of the financial crisis.  But people are beginning to feel that the cure is worse than the disease.

Mr. Hannan’s response to my report, which was simply making a number of practical suggestions how children can be given the best possible start in life, was to evoke images of his children’s sand castle being washed out to sea and the ancient cities of Nineveh and Tyre.  Perhaps he was a romantic poet in a past life.  The fact is though that you can’t get out of the crisis  if we don’t invest in things like our children’s future.  Mr. Hannan and his ilk want you to believe that the ‘tide is coming in’.  They want you to believe this because it serves their ideological interests.  If we look back to the 20th century we find moments of absolute desperation, such as the Great Depression, or the aftermath of the Second World War when leftist governments helped rebuild their countries economies and societies with policies like the New Deal or creating the NHS.

Personally I’m tired of the pessimism of the right.  I believe that Ed Miliband, the Labour party, and the rest of our colleagues in the S&D can show that there is another way.