Jennie Lee, MP, Baroness, Legend, Woman
All Women Shortlists, that bogeyman within the Labour Party. The sole thing that is stopping men from becoming MP’s.
Or so you would think if you listened to the conversation which proliferates around events. Apparently it is now harder for a white, middle-class, male to get into parliament then it is for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle. Women are being put into place purely because they are women, it’s sexist to have a Labour Women’s Network and not a Labour Men’s Network and look at all the advantages they get from the LWN training scheme. They even get their own conference for Bevan’s sake!
There seems to be this view that AWS are giving women an unfair advantage, it’s not about leveling the playing field so much as women taking over. Yet studies have shown that a woman won’t apply for a job unless she has over 85% of the qualities asked for whereas a man will apply if he has only 20%.
There’s an awful lot of privilege denying going on, women are automatically less likely to be selected on an open shortlist, not because of lack of ability, but because selection panels often reflect the makeup of the G.C. G.C’s often tend to be male dominated as they are more likely to put themselves forward or attend meetings. Interestingly this often doesn’t reflect the makeup of the CLP, women are more likely to be silent members, they would go to meetings but were scared off, have to look after the kids or a million and one other activities which are automatically designated “women’s work” even in the most egalitarian and feminist of couples.If CLP’s aren’t gender balanced then how can we expect selections to be genderblind? As Ann Black said in her response to the LWN “Around 75% of parliamentary candidates in non-target seats are also men, worrying because these can often be the first step towards a parliamentary career.”
Men are also more likely to take part in more high-profile campaigning than women, leaflet folding, photocopying and phone canvassing are just as vital to voter ID as doorknocking but have less kudos when selecting people for positions in branch, G.C or as candidates. This is something which needs to be looked into, doorknocking is intimidating enough as it is but as a woman you are constantly reminded that you are not safe. Be it through ad campaigns that blame victims for their own attack or other forms of media which use women as victims. Most men I know have never had to consider their safety in detail before leaving the house, grasping keys in their hand as a defence against attack or ringing a friend before walking home, getting in a taxi or leaving the house when it’s dark.Putting yourself in a situation where you are meeting strangers at their own house automatically rings alarm bells of “not safe, not safe” even if you are in a large group, it does for me even though I have been doorknocking for years. This is one of the reasons women tend to do the backroom work and leave the high-profile stuff to the men. However this counts against them when going for selection.
If you’re a youngish woman, that can count against you. Even though it is no longer asked assumptions are made about your reproductive capabilities and whether you would be able to commit to the role if you had a baby. This is despite some high-profile female MP’s managing to combine both childcare and politics well. I doubt that this is thought of when it comes to male candidates.
As a party we often have an aggression towards AWS based on what is seen as them being imposed by on high. The NEC sets a target and Regional Office tells CLP’s what to do.
- What we need to start working on is a grassroots approach, we need to start valuing the input women make to campaign work and remove the hierarchy of contributions.
- There needs to be work on gender balance at the branch and CLP level as well as on selection panels.
- There has been some excellent work on reformulating the structure of branch and g.c meetings but more has to be done. Thought needs to be paid to the time most of these meetings are and pooling childcare.
- Women need to be encouraged to stand, when I stood it was the result of a lot of arm twisting on behalf of my CLP chair and secretary who thought I was a good candidate. Without that support I doubt I would have stood or even be considering standing until I was past my 40’s.
- We also need to start promoting the women within our party, those who have been elected need to start speaking at CLP’s and writing about their experiences, no one person’s experience is the same but we can all support and learn from each other.
Most importantly we need to stop talking about AWS as if they are some giant evil on the level of Beveridge’s Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. Do you think a woman is going to stand after years of being told that she isn’t as good as a man? Do you think that after 20 odd years that someone is going to say something so shocking and new that it will overthrow the entire system?
What we do need to talk about is what other ways we can get women into politics and make it so that AWS aren’t needed but can be considered a relic of the past.