Sorry, you have the wrong genitals: young Labour’s new election policy.

by Ian Silvera

Recently, I received a letter from young Labour, Labour’s youth wing. Nothing new, I thought, probably trying to promote another public affairs event with the persuasive allure of free tea and biscuits. However, my inclinations were wrong. I had been asked, with thousands of other members, to consider taking part in the party’s youth elections. The particular election that stood out to me was the regional representative election. I was elated that I had been given an opportunity to represent my home region, the West Midlands, on young Labour’s national committee.

Alas, in the rest of the letter I was presented with some bad news. Although I had a gender – “there are rules relating to gender” – my gender was the wrong one. I have a penis. Apparently, the letter explained, Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) has agreed that half the regions will be required to elect women and the other half will be open to men and women. Skilfully, the NEC has alienated roughly half of their young members (the ones with penises) in the following regions: East Midlands, Eastern, London, South East, West Midlands and Yorkshire.

Young Labour’s discrimination against men is wrong. For those not familiar with the “politically correct” stance of Labour and young Labour, some commentators dub these policies “positive discrimination”. They are policies implemented by organisations, institutions and in our case political parties to allow more people from those groups which are not numerically well represented to enter an organisation, institution and/or political party. The term is oxymoronic. Positive and discrimination contradict one another. By favouring one group of individuals over another, you are discriminating against the latter group, in this case men. As such, young Labour’s policy should be described as pure discrimination.

I agree, like so many others, that women are not numerically well represented in politics. For instance, in the 1990s women constituted less than 10% of Parliament. Obviously, something had to be done, then and now, about the disproportionate number of men in politics, otherwise our political elite does not represent the electorate.

Nevertheless, Labour’s, and now young Labour’s, approach to dealing with the problem is worrying. The party first introduced all women shortlists; which made it compulsory to “select” women in some constituencies. Such shortlists have had some success in getting women into Parliament. Now young Labour is blindly following its bigger brother and not allowing men to represent their own regions. The Labour Party and young Labour are promoting special privileges to half of the population while disregarding the other half. This is not equality. Elections should be always open whatever creed, colour or sex you are. It is baffling that in 2010 I have to write this statement of disapproval, it seems that Labour and young Labour has learnt nothing from the past hundred years. What is more, there is a forgotten minority in all of this chaos. Still the white working class male, who usually fits none of the discrimination policies, is left disengaged from party politics.

There is no single way to deal with the disproportionate number of men in representative politics. Nevertheless, the Labour party and young Labour should seek more thoughtful and democratic means of persuading women into politics, rather than discriminating against others who want to get involved.

Ian Silvera is founder of

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19 Responses to “Sorry, you have the wrong genitals: young Labour’s new election policy.”

  1. Josh says:

    I am a young male member in London, and I am not alienated by this decision.

    I think it is even more baffling in 2010 that we do not have real equality, and we should be supporting measures that take us closer to it.

  2. Greg Auger says:

    Fully agree with you.

  3. Adam says:

    “Still the white working class male, who usually fits none of the discrimination policies, is left disengaged from party politics.”

    Apart from nearly every trade union.

    So where is the solution Ian to the issue of fairer representation of different groups?

    Perhaps you should seek more thoughtful and democratic means of persuading women into politics yourself – you have provided none. Instead you spent your time attacking a plainly reasonable attempt to get more women into politics.

  4. Kevin says:

    I think the point Ian is making is that he is part of a generation of young men who feel they are paying unfair reparations for crimes committed during the Sex Wars that he and other young men like him did not commit.

    Absolutely crackers that half the regions can select a male candidate and half cannot.

    Rather than ‘punishing’ men, we need to find better ways of encouraging more women to get involved in political parties – at all levels. Quotas have made a step change in parliamentary representation, no denying it, but this is a blunt instrument. And one, as Ian rightly argues, that does nothing to address the utter alienation felt by many working-class communities towards politics. The advance of professional middle-class women in Labour politics in the last fifteen years has done nothing to address that problem.

    Perhaps we could have working-class women shortlists instead?

  5. Forlornehope says:

    Should Labour-Uncut be publishing this kind of male chauvinist hysteria?

  6. Ian Silvera says:

    Thank you all for your comments.

    I think Kevin has hit the nail on the head : “I think the point Ian is making is that he is part of a generation of young men who feel they are paying unfair reparations for crimes committed during the Sex Wars that he and other young men like him did not commit.”

    I fully support the move to get more women into politics; however it’s the Stone Age methods that Labour and Young Labour use that I’m against- as stated in my article.

    “Perhaps you should seek more thoughtful and democratic means of persuading women into politics yourself – you have provided none. Instead you spent your time attacking a plainly reasonable attempt to get more women into politics.”

    I’m not a public policy expert, but I presume an advertising or marketing scheme may help. The point of the article was to outline a flaw in Young Labour’s election policy, not suggest a new one.

    “Should Labour-Uncut be publishing this kind of male chauvinist hysteria?”

    Hopefully it’s clear from this comment and maybe re-reading my article that I’m not chauvinistic. I feel I have outlined a serious issue with Young Labour’s election policy. Subsequently, I would appreciate you took the time to write a more thoughtful comment.

  7. AnneJGP says:

    An interesting article.

    I would be even more interested to know how the women-only regions were chosen. Also, if equality is such a concern, what was the reason the other half of the regions were left open to women as well as men.

    It will be fascinating to see how electors in the “both genders” regions respond to potential women candidates.

  8. Edward Carlsson Browne says:

    The problem is surely that there’s no apparent reason why these regions should have been chosen. That’s just removing from young men in those regions any chance of representation whatsoever.

    If you’re going to have equality, you have to make sure that nobody is barred absolutely.

    Positive discrimination is fine when you aren’t preventing one group from rising up, merely giving one group an advantage to make up for disadvantages it had. When it allows one and not the other, then it becomes unacceptable.

    Also agree that white working class males are generally a missing voice (and unions aren’t an exception, because union leadership tends to represent union leaders and the party hierarchs they’re trying to curry favour with, not the working class). I’d add that white working class females are at least as disenfranchised, it’s just that they’ve never previously had a big stake, so their exclusion is considered less notable.

  9. peter wheeler says:

    There would appear to be a simple solution. If each region and nation has a rep. then pair regions and have them elect two with the requirement that at least one be a woman(cf NEC elections) This would guaranteeat least 50% women reps whilst maintaining the important democratic principle that every member be allowed to stand for election.

  10. Kyle Mulholland says:

    You are right, Mr Silvera.

    The problem is, the Labour party has been taken over by metropolitan, cafe latte sipping liberals who think that militant, authoritarian measures should be put in place to establish something they like to call ‘equality’. This equality usually involves discrimination against white able-bodied men. Forget about liberty and freedom. Forget about fairness: what these New Labourites want is to rewrite history.

    Representative democracy is just that: you are sent to ‘represent’ every person, regardless of his or her gender, colour or creed. These lot don’t seem to get this simple concept. You even represent those people who have not voted for you. An MP would spend far less time in his constituency if he only dealt with people who were the same as him: white, male, Christian, etc (for example).

    What is the logic in all this? Surely the people who we send to represent us should be selected purely on merit, with our being blind to all other prejudicial non-factors. What if there are more men who wish to stand? What’s wrong with that? What if women would prefer to do something else? Some, sure, would like to stand.

    All-women shortlists, as we have learnt, are not only authoritarian and contrary to proper sex discrimination laws, they also have proven to produce bad results. Jacqui Smith, selected on such a list, is a national embarrassment, a disgrace and one of the worst Home Secretaries in recent memory.

    It’s time we closed the door on this awful experiment and relied instead upon reason. The candidate we send should be the best candidate, not the one who happens to fit the criteria set out by the politically correct quasi-thought police in the NEC. This party needs to reinvent itself as the party of justice and fairness that it was in 1945, not the shallow, opportunistic organ, pandering to the Guardian, the New Statesman, and all these other Britain-hating rags that it is today.

  11. Fabian McNeilly says:

    Sorry, what? You seem to have missed the point of this policy. It is not to create a fair representation for women overnight. Rather it is to encourage other young females into politics.

    Picture a CLP meeting and most people with think of a stuffy room full of old men. Think of an MP and most will think of a male. The point is, this discourages females from going into polticis altogether or at the very least from standing for positions. If all you were to see were people completely different from yourself at the top of politics, you would be much less optimistic about your chances of succeeding. It is easy to see why this might put people off.

    So the basic idea of this policy is to get more females into more positions throughout the party so that they can then inspire a new generation of female politicos. By using pro-women selection, you can achieve this. Yes it’s a tad annoying as a man but I don’t have a problem with it because I know that it’s the right thing to do.

    I guess it comes down to your politics, if you believe in making sacrifices yourself to help achieve a fairer society then you’re more likely to support this.

  12. Liz says:

    This kind of discrimination is a blunt instrument, I agree, but I feel inclined to defend it slightly. Women need role models; they need to be able to see themselves in a position before they can consider applying for it. It needs to feel plausible. This kind of action shows that Labour is committed to helping equality, and maybe there are better ways to do it, but I feel encouraged.

    Kyle, you highlight Jacqui Smith, which is interesting. Whatever anyone’s opinions on female politicians, I do think that women get victimised more by the press too. So even once a woman gets into a powerful position, the general public still has to deal with the images of them constantly belittled. Anything that can help, I am for. It’s really unfortunate that men who have done absolutely nothing wrong have to step aside. But progress will only happen slowly, unless we do everything we can to push it.

    It’s wonderful to hear men speak about gender equality at all though, as it’s too often not even on their radar, and male politicians just hardly ever speak about the issue of gender quality, assumedly because it rarely affects them directly.

  13. Rob Marchant says:

    Ian, it seems very clear to me that you are NOT a sexist of any kind, and that most of the critical comments have been made without reading the article properly.

    It is iniquitous that anyone should be barred from standing locally for any reason, as they are here and with All Women Shortlists. This is a step beyond positive discrimination, which serves only to alienate promising members with something to offer. I have spoken to many female candidates who are unhappy with the process and find it patronising.

    AnneJGP, to answer your question, I am quite sure it will be as it is for AWSs, that the “open” seats will select men out of an instinctive sense of balance, thus largely working against the principle anyway. But it will not take away the frustration of men who are barred: since, as someone said, “all politics is local”, it is much more difficult to get selected outside your home area.

    Finally my old colleague Peter Wheeler above suggests a good halfway-house solution – why ever not?

  14. Will says:

    This measure is not the same as all women’s shortlists, which I largely support, except in cases where there is a strong local male candidate; for instance a council leader, who I would not want to see barred from standing in his own constituency. However I think when there are no strong local candidates there is no downside to having a female outsider rather than a male one.

    AWSs work, and the criticisms against women such as Jacqui Smith ring hollow, she clearly wasn’t to everyone’s liking, but the fact that she made it as high as home secretary shows she isn’t exactly incompetent.

    This Young Labour policy is not an all women shortlist though, it’s not even a longlist. It’s barring any male candidate from standing in a whole region. If I were to seek selection for MP in a constituency, only to be blocked because of an AWS, I could easily go to another nearby constituency and try there. For young members you are stuck in the region you live in. There is also a difference between encouraging more women to stand and just discouraging men.

    To clarify what other people have said about the method for selecting which regions will be female-only, it is done so that regions represented by a woman this time will be open to anyone next time, and those represented by a man this time will only be open to women to stand in.

    My biggest issue with this system is the fact that it’s not like AWSs, in that it actually prevents enthusiastic young members from standing at all. As far as I’m concerned we need to encourage as many young members as possible to stand, even if they don’t end up getting elected. I think it shows the shallowness of how young members are treated in the Labour party, given that there is this big and expensive push to get new members to join for 1p, but seemingly no idea of what to do with them once they join, and active discouragement from getting more people to stand in internal elections.

    I think if the party really cared about treating young people as valued members, rather than a demographic box to tick, instead of this 1p gimmick, they would give Young Labour policy-making powers like Labour Students has, give it at least one full time paid official (I believe Labour Students has 3), increase the number of conferences from 1 every 2 years (NOLS currently has 2 per year), and carry out internal elections via ballots of all young members, rather than having most of them done by a small group of delegates at conference. I personally find it frustrating that this amount of say is given by the party to Labour university students and not other young supporters, when 60% of young people, and probably more of Labour supporting young people, are not in higher education.

  15. Kyle Mulholland says:

    Betty Boothroyd, the first woman Speaker of the House of Commons, got it right:

    ‘Oh no, I’m not in favour of positive discrimination … I think women are just as good as men — but they must compete with them and prove it … I’ve always been a very competitive person, and believe women should succeed at what they do by merit.’

    Similar comments were made by this former Labour MP during an interview with Andrew Neil recently. How many women selected without the inconvenience of havnig to compete with pesky men – some of whom might be better candidates than themselves – can compare as parliamentarians to this venerable lady?

  16. Tom Miller says:

    Dear Ian,

    A couple of responses to you points (I am currently the SE rep on the national committee and as such, unfortunately, am not allowed to re-stand, as I am male).

    Firstly, I want to make clear that I support gender quotas as long as there is sexism in the Labour Party. It is important to reverse prejudice where it takes place. If we on the left are not willing to make that case, what case exactly are we prepared to make?

    Second point, but this letter was not actually from Young Labour, but from the Labour Party. Young Labour had no knowledge of the changes until we received the letter ourselves.

    I am appalled by the fact that the NEC did *not* consult the current executive or Chair. This is very worrying.

    Secondly, I am also alarmed that the election rules are not covered as part of our constitution, but am not surprised as our constitution is completely dysfunctional and unfit for purpose.

    Finally, there was no point in changing the previous system, and I would definitely advocate returning to it.

    It was complicated, but it basically involved removing the winning men who did worst in the regional elections and replacing them with the women who did best, until the executive was gender balanced.

    This system had two big advantages over the current one in that

    1) It reflected merit as well as seeking to redress discrimination in term of votes and/or candidatures where it may exist – it was a meritorious quota rather than an arbitrary one

    2) It would have allowed regional reps such as myself to re-run and get on if we had done a good enough job. This is important, as Reps could do with the incentive of re-election once they are elected.

    3) It would allow fresh young males with something to offer to also get involved, whilst still providing a gender balanced executive.

    The NEC has called this one very badly, and I hope to see a return to the old system – along with a whole other bunch of constitutional reform.

    TO find out a bit about those other problems and possible cures, I suggest you read Christine Quigley’s manifesto at

  17. Ian Silvera says:

    Tom I believe I have already answered your first point- I don’t support ‘quotas’ (trade union, male, female, white, black, green or purple).

    Your second point seems disturbing- at least for me:

    “but it basically involved removing the winning men who did worst in the regional elections and replacing them with the women who did best, until the executive was gender balanced”

    In short the old system- how you described it at least- is certainly no better than the new system; it’s certainly not meritocratic, as you believe, since the best males are excluded over the best females. If you sincerely believe this is meritocracy it’s worrying.

    Mr. Wheeler et al’s proposal of a 50:50 split, where a region elects both a female and male representative, seems to be the best option available.

    If anyone wants to contact me email:

  18. Kyle Mulholland says:

    No. The best option ‘available’ is to allow free elections where all are permitted to stand. If women wish to stand in greater or lesser proportions than men, and if electors wish to elect in these greater or lesser proportions, then so be it. I see no evidence that the government of this country, or of this party, is better done by having more women involved, and see no reason why we should take extraordinary and unnatural measures to make it so.

  19. David Cameron. says:

    I think we should hear more from Kyle.

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