All who oppose quotas are not knuckle-scrapers

by Rob Marchant

Sexism is alive and well in modern Britain. Wherever it is to be found, it is a blight on our society; it lowers people’s horizons and expectations. An indisputable social evil. Obviously not like it was a hundred, or even twenty, years ago: but there.

Arguably, its most persistent manifestation is in the workplace: like the difficulty of women returning to work after children, pay inequality and prospects of reaching top management. The last Labour government helped somewhat in these areas by, for example, improving access to childcare and consolidating equality legislation. And perhaps it could, and should, have done more. Inequalities persist which, being about opportunity and not outcome, rightly concern all of us on the left.

But agreeing on the problem is not the same as agreeing on the solution. And we don’t to need enter into the complex debate over the many methods of combating sexism, in order to evaluate a specific one: quotas. Aiming for gender equality and aiming for numerical gender balance, to state the obvious, are not the same thing.

Is it not telling that, in all the years of putting in place legislation to fight sexism, the western world has seldom got to the stage of implementing gender quotas for jobs? Could it be because (a) they’re often pretty unworkable in practice (just think for a second about how you’d ensure gender balance across all comparable roles and departments in an organisation, and you’ll start to see the logistical nightmare)? And (b) a lot of women, as well as men, don’t like the idea?

However, for some reason, in the Labour party, we have long ago come to a majority view that quotas are not only desirable, but unquestionable. It’s as if we, with our more developed moral compass, provide a beacon of best practice which all other right-thinking organisations should follow. They’re a bit behind us, that’s all: given time, everyone will come round to adopting our advanced ways.

Well, some news: the British public doesn’t agree. The rest of the country looks at these practices – introduced into the party, for the record, by a tiny knot of politicians and NEC members – and think us odd, not advanced. Look, here comes the Labour party. With its strange gender-target obsession.

Naturally, that group includes a vast number of proud, upstanding women and men who are not content to leave sexism unchallenged in the pub or the workplace. Yes, there are people without a sexist bone in their bodies, who just don’t think much of quotas. A lot will want to see more women in positions of power, but don’t see this as the right way. Many of them may not be against affirmative action per se: the debate is more nuanced than that. Many may not even be entirely against quotas, in extremis: but they aren’t for them in general.

And then there is our unhelpful habit of choking off debate on the matter. How? By viewing any questioning of this logic through the following prism: that a challenge can only come from a well-meaning but misguided woman; or a reactionary, Neanderthal man. And, for the record, neither does the debate-stifling trick necessarily follow gender lines: it is often as likely to come from men as women.

But is it not understandable that some of those many party members who are not sexist, and have spent their lives fighting sexism in all its forms, might at some point get frustrated at having the sins of the few visited upon them? Because there is a respectable, differing point of view which deserves at least a hearing, rather than a moral judgement.

It is this: that the numbers game has become an end in itself rather than a means to an end. And it is the cumulative effect of this thinking which, bit by bit, avoiding sensible debate and taking quotas as a universal good, ends with what Neil Kinnock might term the “grotesque spectacle” of the summary Refounding Labour strategy document suggesting, with a straight face, that we might have not just a cabinet chosen by quota, but a leader and deputy leader chosen by quota. Well, no.

That’s right: you vote for two people, but if the leader turns out not to be a woman, all male candidates for deputy leader will have to withdraw. Or two separate, hugely expensive, all-member ballots. Or some similarly unworkable scheme. And, by the way, insisting on a 50-50 cabinet, if Labour were in government, would be an extraordinarily unhelpful constraint on a prime minister to get the cabinet which best fitted skills to positions (not to mention quite possibly illegal).

Finally, we patronise decent male politicians by assuming that, should they find themselves in a majority in a non-quota system, as a group they cannot be trusted not to make sexist decisions or policy unless we remove some of their number and replacing them with women, to “even things up”. It doesn’t make sense, unless you believe that there are seriously sexist men at the top of the party. Who are these cavemen? We should name names.

Yet one of the great attributes of the twenty first century Labour party is that, itself, it is already way ahead of the curve. Yes, you can be sure to find the odd situation when you’ll find some old feller with a dodgy opinion, and you can also be sure he’ll be roundly condemned for it. On average, you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of people less likely to be sexist than at a local Labour party meeting. We mostly fall over ourselves to get this right and we should be proud of that. But if we spent as much time and energy fighting sexism in the workplace as we do on tinkering with our internal processes to mixed results, you can’t help thinking that we might be helping the cause a lot more.

As a grown-up political party of 110 years standing, we’re surely self-confident enough to have an open debate about this. No name-calling, no ad-hominem judgement of the person voicing the opinion, or their sex. Just a simple, clear-headed analysis of where positive action is appropriate, and where it is not.

Peter Hain, who is in charge of Refounding Labour, in 2006 apologised for the fiasco in Blaenau Gwent, where an imposed quota led directly to the loss of a seat. A recognition that quotas are not a universal good. Surely he, of all people, should encourage this debate?

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left.

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17 Responses to “All who oppose quotas are not knuckle-scrapers”

  1. Christina says:

    A lot of sense written here.

    We have only a small number of women active and attending meetings in our CLP and it can be a little cruel that women, such as myself, are forced into standing for posts in the branch, the GC etc, simply to meet minimum requirements for the numbers of women in posts, whilst there are very willing and competent men who lose out on the opportunity to stand.

    Similarly, when it comes to things such as conferences; men cannot go because it will upset the gender balance, even if we can’t find enough women to take the delegate places that they have been allocated.

    Men who could win council seats cannot stand because we have to put a woman on the ballot paper.

    Worst of all, many excellent male candidates did not reach the hustings when we were looking for a PPC, although one women did because of a quota, and she was so useless, that nobody could bring themselves to vote for her and we laughed afterwards about how poorly she spoke and how uninformed she was.

    I cannot believe that having more female candidates will win us more female votes, because women have traditionally been more likely to vote Tory and the Tories have tended to put up fewer female candidates.

    As a feminist who wants only the best for this country, please let us have the very best and the most committed taking positions of authority in the Labour Party, and may we go on to win.

  2. Emma Burnell says:

    There is an argument to be had within the Labour Party about ensuring that we are a modern, representative party. You and I would be on different sides of that argument. That’s ok – as long as we both agree to abide by the rules as then agreed by our party, I’m happy to agree to disagree.

    But quite often Rob, when we discuss points of nuance in policy you quite rightly point out that the public are far less engaged than we are. They aren’t sitting in the Dog and Duck discussing the rights and wrongs of gender quotas no matter how much we might like them to be. They just don’t care. What they do see – though very much on the edge of consciousness – is a party that looks a bit more like them. They don’t care beyond that mild positive. I wish they did for one reason, you wish they did for different reasons, but they don’t.

    I’ll go around the houses with you on the rights and wrongs of gender quotas. We will have plenty of platforms on which to do so despite your belief (published on a public facing, publically available Labour orientated blog) that your debate is being shut down. You may not be convincing people you’re right. That’s not the same as them not having the debate with you. But to argue they are electorally significant – never mind damaging – is to vastly misinterpret the situation.

    Finally, and most ironically of all, the document you link to says the following:

    “Gender balance within the Leadership Team

    Many submissions have called for measures to cement the principle of gender balance within the party’s leadership team, perhaps through a gender-balanced Leader/Deputy ticket when the Leader is elected. This would demonstrate our commitment to achieve equality at every level of the party but would require rule
    changes. Further consideration will be given to this proposal.”

    So it is saying – here’s what a lot of members have suggested. We should consider this proposal.

    Is it really a “grotesque spectacle” that we should consider a proposal put forward by members of our party? And if it is, who exactly is trying to close down debate here?

  3. Roger says:

    Having only recently began attending party meetings I’ll admit to being shocked to find that our party could only send a female delegate to conference this year – fortuitously the only member interested in going was a woman but had she not been willing to step up we would be effectively disenfranchised as a CLP.

    And how many CLPs have not sent delegates to recent conferences precisely because of this quota?

    FWIW my CLP membership is 38% female and 62% male and this seems to be in line with national party membership (in 2004 the Electoral Commission study of political participation in the UK estimated the the split at 40/60).

    However a significant demographic fact that is not widely discussed is that our female members are significantly older (63 on average in my CLP) than the males (55 on average).

    This means that while half of our female members are past 65, this is true of only a quarter of the males.

    You can call me ageist (although I’m 51 myself and thus no spring chicken) and in fact several of our most active members are women in their 80s, but should anyone do a survey I am pretty certain that you will find that interest in attending a national political conference in an expensive seaside town will correlate quite closely to age and decline quite rapidly after a certain point.

    One would also expect a similar age correlation when it comes to interest in running for the more time and resource-consuming levels of elective office.

    And given that there are progressively more women in each age band the older you get and that Labour members are overwhelmingly middle aged to elderly (our CLP’s average age is 58 and only 15% of members are under-40) this will inevitably mean that even if 40% of our members are women, the number of women members who are interested in and can afford to attend conference (or stand for election) must be significantly lower than that.

    So while I have no doubt that sexism has played a role in systematically excluding women from positions we have to accept that membership demographics and the impact of the ageing process (and of the poverty associated with old age) on activism levels are objective realities which mean that we will never see true 50:50 (or even 40:60) parity.

    For conference a fairer and more logical approach would be not to apply an arbitrary quota which every year denies 30% of the party membership (i.e. half of the 60% of members who are male but live in CLPs who are only allowed female delegates) even the option to attend conference as a delegate – but instead to increase the numbers of CLP delegates so that every party sends up to 3 delegates one of which should be a woman.

    As not every party would in fact send 3 delegates this would likely still produce a 40% female conference and thus be broadly representative without denying any member who wants to attend and can win election as a delegate a place purely because they have the wrong type of genitalia.

    And as for motivating more members per CLP to attend you’d obviously also need to turn conference back into a democratic policy making body representing the full range of opinion in the party rather than a pep rally for loyalists.

    A bigger conference would admittedly be logistically more difficult to mount and control – but I see that as a feature rather than a bug – if you are a democratic party the more members who attend conference and are personally involved in real policy making the better.

    Another issue which seriously needs addressing is the cost of conference – few if any parties are in any position to subsidise delegates and given the exorbitant cost of accommodation and travel this effectively means that unless the conference is on your doorstep only the most middle class party members can even consider attending.

    And for candidate quotas the key issue is whether the decision making bodies are representative – if a CLP with 40% female membership has a 40% female selection panel then really they should be allowed to choose whoever they like irrespective of gender.

    So rather than argue about quotas lets introduce some real data into the debate and talk about how we make the party at all levels more representative of the actual membership.

  4. Karen Watson says:

    I agree with many of your points. Most people are well educated enough to see that it is the best person for the job and everything else is irrelevant. However, there are still places that are behind the times and my local branch are currently bending the rules to ensure the right MAN is selected for next May’s elections. Even though he has only just rejoined the party. Some people (or places) are still 20 years behind the times.

  5. Roger says:


    That is a serious charge against your whole branch.

    Assuming its a large enough to actually function it must have what? 100 members?

    But how many regularly attend branch meetings – 10, 15, 20?

    If there is a cabal in that subset of members fixing candidate selection then ‘the branch’ is only at fault if nobody is turning up at meetings and challenging them.

    The democratic answer is for you to speak up and to get more members to turn up and support you.

    This is just how mass political parties work and we’ve known this since Roberto Michels wrote his ground-breaking study of the German Social Democrats almost a century ago.

    Unlike hyperactive extremist microsects that demand cult-like devotion, parties like ours always consist of a majority of almost completely inactive members, a minority of occasional activists who attend some meetings and do ‘a bit’ at elections and small factions or cliques of real activists who do most of the work for most of the time – and not unreasonably – end up running everything.

    If you are unhappy with a sexist (and you imply poorly educated and ‘behind the times’ – as if that is a bad thing) clique running your branch your only options are to either submit or form your own rival clique and battle them for power.

    Having a female candidate imposed on them by centrally dictated quota might foil them this time, but would change nothing in the underlying power relationships within your branch – only you can do that.

  6. Rob Marchant says:

    @Christina: sadly I can’t say your experience is atypical. I have witnessed a selection meeting where around thirty men were fighting to achieve just one of four branch nominations, and where only one woman stood (and was therefore automatically selected by all four branches). To her great credit, she made the point to everyone concerned that she did not agree with the process.

    I should point out that the point of this post was really to debate the more extreme case of the proposals for leadership quotas, but clearly there is a wider case to be at least debated on conference delegates, parliamentary selections etc. I have written more about parliamentary selections here.

    @Emma: I think we agree on the fact that the public is not engaged with this issue particularly, and therefore the issue itself is neither here nor there – true. Firstly, just because an issue doesn’t matter much to the public, you can equally argue that it shouldn’t stop you from doing the right thing.

    A side point: regarding the “mild positive”, we already have a massively more “people like us” list of politicians than either of the other two parties. I can’t imagine that the marginal effect of further increasing from here will even have a “mild positive” effect down the Dog and Duck.

    Secondly, there is something much more important. We need to look like a party of government. We need not to look ridiculous to the public, or more importantly the intelligent and often politically neutral opinion-formers of the country. Where we do things that the public look at and think, “that’s weird”, we have a credibility problem. If you think this doesn’t matter, look at the history: the Tories exploited our credibility problem brilliantly during the 80s, under Kinnock as well as Foot, and kept us out of government. “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make ridiculous.” Every time we do silly things, our enemies exploit it mercilessly and it pushes us further from power.

    This can hurt us in two ways: one is in backbench MPs doing very silly things (e.g. Burden/Corbyn over Raed Salah), and one is in the party leadership doing moderately silly things. This is one of the latter. The public wouldn’t understand why we were doing it. They just think we’re being way over-the-top right-on, and that turns people off.

    Regarding the closing-off of debate, two points: 1. my point was that it’s an issue that many members do not even see as up for discussion, something which I don’t see as very healthy. 2. if you think there is going to be a free and open debate on most of the constitutional changes, I’d say you’re showing a somewhat naive understanding of how the party machinery works. Every single change on the subject of quotas (and there have been quite a lot over recent years) has flown through the NEC without a hitch. If you think about the makeup of the NEC, you’ll see why this is the case, but it is not remotely representative of the party as a whole.

    I don’t see it as very likely that this proposal will be any exception, unless there were to be either a serious reaction from the grassroots, or disagreement from the Leader’s Office. Let’s see what happens over the next 12 months, but I suspect that the default position is that there will be little, if any, further debate on the subject.

    @Roger: that’s exactly what I mean when I say we should have a debate. It’s about getting the right level of intervention, not an arbitrary numeric which forever ratchets upwards. Very good point about the 60:40 membership within the party as a whole.

    @Karen: sorry to hear that. I acknowledge the fact in the piece that sexism is not (and probably will never be) completely stamped out, and there will always be those who try and propagate it within, or without, the rules. Mind you, I’d also note that I think local parties (not just Labour) have an almost uncontrollable urge to stitch up selections – for both men and women. I’m not sure that further rule changes would have any effect on this proclivity, sadly. And I think the party organisation should set a better example itself in this regard.

  7. Roger says:

    OK here are some stats on activism levels by gender:

    In May 2010 28% of males (4.1 million) and 31% of females (4.7 million) voted Labour

    So amongst voters our gender breakdown was 47 male : 53 female

    If Labour has 200,000 members (the hard data is that it sent out 177,000 ballot papers for the leadership election and must easily have grown 10% by then) and there is still a 60/40 male/female ratio then we have 120,000 male and 80,000 female members.

    This means that while 2.7% of male Labour party voters belong to the party the party, only 1.7% of female Labour voters do.

    As regards candidates: in May 2010 70% of Labour PCs were male and only 30% female.

    However a female candidate was marginally more likely to win their seat than a male one (i.e. 31% of our MPs were female).

    So even though we have been enforcing positive discrimination for what 15 years? and 53% of electorate are female only 40% of party members and 30% of PPCs are female.

    If can’t be bothered to analyse the data for ministers but I expect that you’d get a similar falling off when you go up to that level.

    Now clearly there is still sexism at play – but IMO what also needs to be controlled for much more rigorously is class and age if we are analysing the real degree of inequity.

    If my CLP is at all representative our female members are much older (+8 years on average) than the males and if as in my CLP half of the women but only a quarter of the men are pensioners then this very severely reduces the pool of women who are likely to be highly active in the party.

    I doubt for instance that in over 30 years of intermittent LP activism I have ever attended a party meeting which was less than two-thirds or three quarters male.

    Class is much harder to quantify as I know of no such breakdown of party members.

    But we know that while our highest level of support electorally (40%) is amongst DE women you would be hard put to find a single DE woman (even by origin) in the PLP and in my experience you won’t see many at party meetings either.

    And this to my mind is a much bigger issue than simple gender balance.

    Politics has become massively professionalised and draws its elites from the professions and business (and of a new caste who hardly even experience life outside of the PPE, parliamentary researcher, think tank, special advisor and MP career track) to an even greater extent than 25 years ago.

    And as women are significantly under-represented in most of those bourgeois professions this naturally results in women being under-represented in parliament.

    The real problem therefore is as always class.

    So although quotas have worked in making the party much more representative in pure gender terms I suggest that we’ve reached a plateau which is bounded not by institutional sexism but by gulfs of class and age – and that these should be the main focus rather than a pointless and after a certain point undemocratic and inequitable striving for arithmetical parity on gender alone.

    So lets experiment with the idea not of a positive quota for women but a negative quota for PPE graduates.

    And how about an all working class shortlist? (or more practically a shortlist which excludes anyone who has no significant adult work experience outside academia and politics?)

    Now that is really thinking the unthinkable….

  8. Rob Marchant says:

    @Emma: sorry, one more thing. You haven’t addressed the central practical issues from the piece. These are (i) implementability of 50-50 Leader/Dep Leader (ii) desirability, not to say legality, of constraining party Leader to put best people in best jobs.

  9. Ben Cobley says:

    What the advocates of gender quotas never seem to admit is that what they are advocating is overt, purposeful, open discrimination on the basis of gender – precisely what they are apparently trying to get rid of.

    And that it is demonstrably, obviously, unfair to individuals. And that those deserving individuals who are discriminated against and the people that observe them getting discriminated against can sometimes take it hard, and wonder quite what they are doing in a party that would do such a thing to them, when they have good intentions and what to do a good job.

    And that the people that benefit from this open discrimination are sometimes not people who are necessarily deserving of positions of power when compared against the claims of others.

    I wouldn’t mind so much if advocates of discrimination like this would admit these incontrovertible truths, and have the good sense and respect to at least put time limits and other mitigation measures into their proposals.

    We can see that AWS has at least put a lot of women in Parliament, which is a good thing in a general sense.

    But continue these policies on and they will take on all the attributes of a basic power grab, if indeed they haven’t already. You are also going to lose a lot more good people from within the party who see these arbitrary and unfair roadblocks put in their way.

  10. Richard says:

    I wish Rob Marchant would learn how to use the colon properly. Every article I read by him seems to contain a misuse.

  11. Emma Burnell says:

    @Rob I totally agree that because the public isn’t that engaged, isn’t a reason to do the right thing. But clearly, you and I disagree on the right thing. So it is not clear cut from our debate that there is a “right thing”. There is what I think is the right thing and what you think is the right thing. These are diametrically opposed.

    It is an extremely good thing that the Party has a “people like us” positive. Ask yourself how we got it?

    On being made ridiculous or otherwise. You are putting far, far too much emphasis on an internal party policy. Kinnock wasn’t made to look ridiculous over internal Party reforms. In fact he too put too much emphasis on them and believed that getting rid of Militant – the best thing he did – and starting the movement towards internal Party democracy would be enough to change the image of the Labour Party. It wasn’t. This – whether we take it up or not – will have no effect on our standing with the public.

    We can’t stop MPs from occasionally acting like idiots as Tom Harris of this parish has recently and amply demonstrated. If we did have that much control over MPs – stopping them ever expressing any opinions at all – what would it then matter who they were?

    Regarding your closing-off of debate points:

    1. The “Some members don’t think it’s up for discussion” line is a total straw man. And worse, you know that. Some people have settled views on some things. They exist within a democratic Party. If enough of them have a settled view on a thing it doesn’t tend to be challenged much – it’s like Sure Start – most people agree with it so we don’t debate it a whole lot.

    This is so far from being one of these issues. I saw from your conversation on Twitter that you like to think your a bit of a maverick outrider on this. I hate to break it to you, but that’s very far from being the truth. Here’s a post representing your point of view from Labour List last month: this debate is on-going. It’s just that your point of view continues to be challenged because some people disagree with it. We will not stop challenging it. That’s what debate is.

    2. Ahhh point two. It never takes long. Party hack in “nativity” challenge to member. Ok, let me get my boogie shoes on, and we’ll do this dance again.

    Firstly, as an aside, you’ve chosen an amusing time to challenge me on the workings of the NEC both formally and informally. Frankly, there is little over the last two weeks I know or have thought more about.

    Secondly, and possible even funnier though a bit more dark humour than comic mistiming is your attitude to the NEC and its workings. You may not have noticed, but the proposal we are talking about comes in a document called “Refounding Labour” which is about, well, refounding the Labour Party. The proposals in the interim document are a bit light on detail but there are clear discussions about making the NEC more accountable.

    Rob, just because the Party machinery has always worked in a certain way, does not mean that it always will or ever should. I will continue to fight hard to make that machine accountable to members, not the plaything of senior staff and leadership. From my discussions with the new GS I get the strong sense he wants the same thing. So yes, I will lobby hard to support ideas I want. As should you.

    What we shouldn’t believe is the right course of action. is asking that ideas are not put to the NEC because we don’t like them. There you have betrayed not just the fact that it is you who wishes to close down debate, but also the way you’ve been gaming the machinery for years and are only crying “uncle” now that things aren’t going your way.

    Proposals from Refounding Labour – either separately or probably in its entirety – will be debated and voted on at conference. If you think this is important enough, lobby away. I’ll see you on the other side.

    Finally, your additional point.

    1. implementability. I don’t know how it would work, I’ve not seen any proposals – so far it is only an option we are looking at. My strong instinct is that what we would get would be leadership/deputy leadership tickets running against each other. That would certainly take rule changes. It could be very interesting.

    2. The idea that this will stop “the best candidate” is another straw man (perhaps to offer gender balance I should say a straw woman). For any job, there is no perfect candidate, but a set of criteria, and a number of candidates who match this criteria to a greater or lesser extent. All this does is add an extra level of criteria in the essential category.

    May I add, that you are utilising a certain amount of selective naivety yourself (where are you looking at standing?). In politics we all know that there have always been other factors than simply “merit” in appointing people, and that this is true in all parties. Factionalism is far more damaging to politics than gender balancing but is allowed to carry on regardless as it’s an informal rather than a positive and formal rebalancing. This could be address by my tickets selection, with factions having to work together to get selected.

    Finally, a minor quibble but an interesting one. You claim that I didn’t “address the central practical issues from the piece”. Are you aware that of the 15 paragraphs in your piece, only 4 made arguments about either the practicality or implementability of the idea? The rest was either scene setting, party bashing or complaint about lack of debate. At the least, I hope we have both addressed the latter.

  12. Rob Marchant says:

    @Roger, you make an interesting point that we have a 30-70 split on both parliamentary selections and chance of winning seat. However, you miss the point that parliamentary selections are only about *new* MPs, and that a very large proportion of winnables have been going to women. If you check the only *new* MP statistics, I’m sure you will see a significantly higher number of women.

    I do agree with you wholeheartedly about the professionalisation of politics and the large number of MPs who have never had a “proper job”. However, I don’t think this is about education or studying PPE, it’s about the process not encouraging experienced people from whatever walk of life.

    Where I think we part company is – as you’ll expect me to say – over quotas on class and age. I think there’s no point taking away one quota to put in place another.

  13. Rob Marchant says:

    @Ben: Very good point about time limits. The problem is with not imposing time limits, or even regular review to see if still applicable, on a piece of positive discrimination (or any other imposed privilege on a target group) is that it becomes embedded in behaviour, becomes a God-given right and eventually an untouchable shibboleth. The point is this: there is never a good time to remove a privilege. There will always be a reason not to do it. This phenomenon has happened with privileges throughout history.

    Finally, a side point: this is classic identity politics at a time when we are starting to realise that identity politics has been doing considerable damage to society. It sets us against each other and sections us pointlessly into groups.

    @Emma: ‘It is an extremely good thing that the Party has a “people like us” positive. Ask yourself how we got it?’ Discuss.

    Yes, it is good. But you’re talking about the past, not the future. I have not called, you may notice, for wholesale removal of all positive discrimination, just a debate (I personally may not want to see very much, but I’m prepared to negotiate). Why should we not, as Ben argues above, have time limits or regular review? Because we prefer to beat ourselves over the head with an exceedingly blunt instrument.

    On the other hand, your argument seems to be that we have not gone far enough. How much, I wonder, would be enough for you? When would you say “so far and no further”? What about gay quotas, is that desirable too (a colleague recently argued that one with me)? What about, as someone has suggested here, working-class quotas? Age-related shortlists? And this is precisely my point. Your argument seems to follow the line of “it is a truth universally acknowledged” (although, it has to be said, without the irony).

    “No effect on our standing with the public” – I beg to differ, at least over the long-term. It is currently one of a number of things which make us look a bit silly. You might also argue that Clause Four was a boring, internal issue which didn’t effect our standing with the public. With most of them it probably passed quite unnoticed at the time. But, among the political commentators, the opinion-formers and the historians, it was an immensely important moment, where they started to see that we could be electable again. And they are who you need to get to believe that you will win.

    On the closing off of debate: fascinating that you chose the post from Ian Silvera: he is actually the *only* person – apart from myself – I have seen in the last year put his head above the parapet on this issue (and actually we have slightly different positions). He is also a young guy with little to lose politically. Although a few senior people do hold similar views to mine they are, frankly, very reluctant to articulate them because they do not want to enter into a debate in which they are likely to be vilified. There is so NOT an ongoing debate. Last time I posted about this someone commented “this is a debate you cannot win” or some such. I’m not sure I understand why you are trying to convince yourself there is a debate, when there is so clearly not.

    Re the party hack point: as Peter Watt pointed out this very morning, there is little in Refounding Labour to be excited about. I am glad you have met Iain and he has given you a positive feeling about the future – good for you. But you must also realise that such political ideas are not decided by the GS, but by the NEC.

    Regarding “gaming the machinery for years”, Emma, I’m afraid you have overreached in your conclusions; you entirely overestimate my importance, not to mention having wrong my job description. Furthermore, personally I think the way the NEC operates is flawed and needs some serious attention, and I would have given you the same response ten years ago, when I worked for the party (albeit in a much quieter voice). I have always been critical of the things within the Party I don’t like, not just now. I disagreed with many things then, and I do now, although perhaps different ones. One thing where I am very critical of the NL years is that they left the Party to fester, and my position has always been consistent on that. So you are wrong, wrong, wrong in your assertion about “gaming the machinery” in almost every way. You are stereotyping, and it cheapens your argument, which is a legitimate and valid one, albeit one I disagree with.

    My point stands: this, if it remains in the RL document, will fly through the NEC and Conference, if it is not challenged by either the Leader’s Office or the grassroots, and the latter seems unlikely – see earlier comments. We’ll return to this in two years’ time, and we can compare notes about how this discussion has gone. There is unlikely to be any further serious debate, although if you spot some let me know.

    Re implementability. A leadership/deputy leadership ticket I think is a waste of the limited resources we have, because it ties candidates to each other. If one falls, the other one does. But it could work and, at least, would not cost the earth. I’m not sure politicians would want it, though. And I certainly don’t.

    On best-skilled people for the job, sorry but you can’t just say “straw man – I win” every time you disagree with someone as if this were Top Trumps! No, “being a woman” is not a legitimate skill for a job, like “knows about healthcare” or “background in finance”. It is not for a job in the outside world in any shape or form, and there is no reason why it should be in the party either.

    Finally – “factionalism is far more damaging to politics than gender balancing”. Says who? An opinion with no kind of factual backup.

    Signing off now – always a pleasure. 😉

  14. Emma Burnell says:

    Babs I hope your popcorn is on a slow burner as these long responses seem to be taking a while to get through.

    Firstly, I’m delighted to tell you that we agree. I think reviews are essential to the successful working of AWS. I don’t know that I would put in a cut-off date to end the programme, but certainly for us to be able to claim it as a total rather than partial success, it must succeed in making itself obsolete.

    My argument is slightly different than “we have not gone far enough”. It is that I am open to suggestions that what we have now is not yet sufficient and want to see evidence and investigation of additional matters. I like ideas and exploration. Just call me the Indiemma Jones of the Labour Party, I didn’t realise that was so unusual.
    But please don’t get me wrong. I recognise that mine is not a universal position. How do I know? Well being called “a ballbuster” on Twitter was my most recent clue. For me, my issue is female representation. But I realise that other equalities strand make convincing cases and I welcome a broader debate.

    You argue that the success of our decision to rewrite Clause IV (another area where i suspect we found agreement, isn’t that lovely) negates my argument about Militant. I don’t believe it does. Clause IV was about policy and economics. It may have technically been a change to the Party’s constitution, but it changed not a jot how we organised ourselves. These measure, like the expulsion of Militant, is about our internal organisation only. They have not a jot of effect on our policy or handling of the economy. The public & even the commentariat barely care about how we organise ourselves.

    On whether we have a debate or not (and this being my third post on your article rather suggests that we do) it may well be fascinating that I chose Ian Silvera’s piece. As someone undertaking a massive programme of self-examination at present, I do find myself dithering over my motives for every and any thing these days. Jung would probably disagree, but I’m satisfied that my reason was simply that that was the most recent article on it I had read. My therapist, coach and yourself are free to judge otherwise. As I mentioned above, it’s not the only time I’ve had this debate this year, though these posts are considerably less colourful (though all the better for it). As for your legions of senior people who share your views, might I suggest that if they felt that strongly about the issue they (and please forgive the dreadful sexism, but it’s simply too delicious to resist) grow a pair?

    There have been a number of articles on this topic. Perhaps not as many as you would like, but did the esteemed Editor of Labour Uncut deny you space for this article? Would the Editor of other left-of-centre blogs? If your view point is not sufficiently publicly represented it is either because not enough people care to make the point, or those who do care aren’t making it with sufficient skill to be published. That is not the fault of your debate opponents, nor is it proof that the debate has been closed down.

    I did not realise, but am utterly utterly delighted to learn that “Party Hack” is an official title with a job description! Please let me know immediately who I send my CV to! But Rob don’t worry, it’s not the size of the cog that matters, but what you do with it that counts. I’m delighted that you agree with me (again!) on the essential value of changing the power imbalance between membership, leadership and staff. I look forward to a long and fruitful relationship in which we work together to put significantly more meat on what I agree are the currently quite bare bones of RL. One thing we could perhaps agree on is that any group established to give this proposal the “further consideration” suggested has significant membership representation? Then we could both be satisfied that the process was implementing and not bypassing the will of the grassroots.

    You’re right, I shouldn’t say straw man so often. I have a limited vocabulary and your post rather invited it by having more than one, but it’s not the perfect debating tactic and I am sorry. Though I stand by the rest of my comment which is about finding the best person from what is missing in your organisation. Which sadly so often with politics is female representation.

    I’m assuming your last point was a joke? If not, may I suggest you read any of the following and tell me factionalism isn’t deeply damaging:

    Always a pleasure! ?

  15. AmberStar says:

    Politics is not about getting the best ‘man’ for the job. Labour isn’t a corporation, it’s a political Party & it’s about reflecting the country Labour seeks to represent. 50% of the country is female & we deserve to be equally represented whether our job skills – in your eyes – are ‘inferior’ or not.

  16. Rob Marchant says:

    Emma, I’m so delighted we now agree on, well, everything! Now you can’t put a credit card between us, we don’t need to continue debating.

    I just *knew* you’d come round to my way of thinking sooner or later. 🙂

  17. Rob Marchant says:

    @AmberStar: what a load of sexist twaddle. Tell me where above I considered female skills inferior to male.

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