All women shortlists in inner city wards: no dispensation from representation

by Waseem Zaffar

Last month, I was elected to Birmingham city council for the first time. A couple of weeks later was the council AGM, at which, amongst other things, we elected a new lord mayor. Councillor Len Gregory handed over to senior Labour councillor, Anita Ward. The whole occasion made me proud to be taking part and proud to be a Brummie. Cllr. Ward will be a fantastic first citizen.

But something about the ceremony also embarrassed me. Made me wonder whether Birmingham is truly the multi-cultural capital that we think it is, whether equality is the strong point that it ought to be. Cllr. Ward is only the seventh female lord mayor of our city. That is a shame and an embarrassment to us all: to the city and to all political parties.

Despite positive discrimination being introduced by Labour years ago, there is still a lack of women in the council chamber.

That can’t be right. We have to have the best people to represent our city. And those that represent our city have to “look” like the city they stand for. For example, Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe outside Turkey and has the largest population of under 30s. However, the council chamber, despite a number of young additions this year, still does not reflect the various age groups in the city.

Gender is also a huge issue for the council chamber. And Cllr. Ward’s elevation to lord mayor of Birmingham has opened up a debate.

We hear conflicting reports from the Birmingham Labour party. The Birmingham Labour party has a grid system which requires all wards to have a minimum of one female councillor/candidate (out of three) every four years. I support this. Yet, a number of largely ethnic minority populated wards have hitherto been excepted from this rule. The argument being that asian communities will not vote for women candidates. I do not agree.

The time has come for us to encourage more women to take part in democracy as, if I am not mistaken, slightly more than half the population of Birmingham and our country is female. And women play a huge role in society that goes largely unrecognised.

This argument that if a woman stands in an inner-city ward in Birmingham made up of largely ethnic minorities she will not win the seat is nonsense. I won by a majority of nearly 4,000 in my inner city ward because I was a Labour candidate. Not because I am male, or because I am of a particular ethnic origin. The election of Cllr. Tony Kennedy in Sparkbrook (white candidate in the ward with possibly the highest ethnic minority population in Birmingham) clearly endorses this argument. Despite what our egos may want to believe, the Labour rose is what puts votes on the ballot paper.

So, if a man can win by a majority of nearly 8,000 in Washwood Heath, I am certain that a woman can win the seat. The same can be said in Aston, Bordesley Green and Springfield, as well as other inner city seats.

It’s time for our ethnic minority communities to “get with the project”, in particular Birmingham’s Muslim community. Just look at what Shabana Mahmood MP, Cllr. Yvonne Mosquito, Cllr. Paulette Hamilton, Cllr. Penny Holbrook et al have achieved. They are role models for young girls growing up in Birmingham, and we need to bring through more role models from to encourage all sections of the community to participate in our democracy.

Shabana’s election to the House of Commons last year was so well received from all sections of the community. We need more “Shabanas”. The Birmingham Labour group is currently chaired by Cllr. Yvonne Mosquito. We need more Yvonnes out in the community engaging with other females and encouraging them to become the “next Yvonne”.

The West Midlands regional office has held a number of training sessions for women who may want to consider standing for election. The Birmingham Labour party needs to follow this through to ensure that no ward in which an AWS is due is denied its entitement under Labour rules to elect a women. There should be no special dispensation from representation.

Waseem Zaffar is Labour councillor for Lozells & East Handsworth ward.

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5 Responses to “All women shortlists in inner city wards: no dispensation from representation”

  1. lord saville says:

    interesting points made and raised….but I wonder if Cllr Zaffar’s role model Khalid Mahmood decides to step down at the next election and the NEC decided to make Perry Barr AWS, would Mr/Cllr Zaffar support having more representation then??

  2. Mike Olley says:

    Surely this can’t be right? If we are to encourage balanced gender representation, we can’t really be doing this. Can we?

  3. John P Reid says:

    In Michael foot and Bevnas old constituency laobur put up a women only short list in 2005 and a Male laobur member left the party stood as an independent, and won,the Male passed away of cancer a couple of years later, and Lo and Behold laobur then put up a Man, and got denis skinner to come down and coampaign

    at the GLA election labour ha womn only fr the assembly, in un winnable wards, now anyone standing is lokking at it as a stepping stone to be elected elsewhere in a couple of years, and are not going to put the work in, the same time I know a male who wanted to stand and would have campaigned hrd ,knowing he wouldn’y have won, another case of A wasted oppurtunity.

  4. Edward Carlsson Browne says:

    As always, John’s comment misses the point almost as much as it is badly spelt. This isn’t about excluding male candidates – as we’re dealing with multi-member wards, it’s more than possible to have male and female councillors from the same ward.

    I’d also add that if Salma Yaqoob can get elected in her ward (and with her policies) there’s no reason a competent female Labour candidate would be unable to win in those areas.

  5. imran says:

    An excellent article, which raises some valid points, but lets make this a reality and get more young men and women into the council and into politics.

    Politics is a passion and we need to all work harder to get more younger people interested in shaping and changing our futures for the better.

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