The leadership election and Corbyn’s shadow cabinet show that Labour needs All Women Shortlists more than ever

by Alex Ross Shaw

2015 marks the fortieth anniversary of the election of Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party. 2015 is also the year that the Labour party, which used to love to taunt the Conservatives over their ‘women problems’, elected a man to be the Leader, Deputy Leader and their London Mayoral candidate.

Following Harriet Harman’s departure from her second stint as acting Leader of the party, a role twice fulfilled by women otherwise kept out of the magic circle of leadership, it’s worth reflecting on the necessity of All Women Shortlists (AWS) in our party and their failure to supply a leader in the 20-plus years they’ve been put forward.

Instinctively, I don’t support AWS. I have seen them foster resentment among colleagues male and female. I would prefer a system where shortlists are made up of 50:50 male to female ratios but sadly, what I would prefer in an ideal world does not work. Therefore my support for AWS is based on evidence of which the 2015 Labour internal elections are merely the latest in a long line.

If you believe men and women are equal you have to address why men dominate the upper echelons of society and politics and always have. The answer is structural and perhaps even inherent in how society and people operate. Clearly, simply increasing the number of female candidates is not enough. Labour has a much larger talent pool of female MPs than the Conservatives and we’ve still failed to elect a woman leader.

The fact that having two strong candidates in 2015 after having one candidate in 2010 on borrowed votes is seen as progress shows how far we have to go. 2015 should be the bare minimum, not our best effort yet.

In this leadership election we had more women stand for senior positions than ever before; Diane Abbott and Tessa Jowell for the London Mayoral candidacy, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper for the Labour Leadership and Caroline Flint, Stella Creasy and Angela Eagle for the Deputy Leadership.

Despite this array of candidates, nearly all of whom would have been strong or exceptional candidates (on average, arguably stronger than their male counterparts), the Labour party, a party that considers itself the natural home of women’s rights and advancement, elected men to all three posts.

Worse was to come in the new leader’s shadow cabinet appointments.

Desperate spinning that over half of the shadow cabinet is female barely touches on the damage done to the party by giving all the shadow ‘great offices of state’ to men.

False too, are the excuses from Corbyn supporters that there simply weren’t the women there to take the posts. Angela Eagle is infinitely more qualified for shadow chancellor than John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, whose lack of support in the London Mayoral elections only underlines the issues highlighted above, has views on foreign policy and immigration surely closer to Corbyn’s than Hilary Benn and Andy Burnham.

AWS has proven effective in boosting the number of female MPs within Labour’s ranks, to the point where more and more female Tory MPs are open to it in their own party, but it’s sadly proven not to be enough to get those MPs to make the transition to leader.

Even in 2013, after 20 years of AWS, the party was still selecting men in an overwhelming number of open selections. Seeing women like Jacqui Smith, Yvette Cooper, Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman in senior government positions over the past thirteen years hasn’t led to more women being nominated in open selections. Either you believe these are all weak politicians who give women in politics a bad name or you accept something is going badly wrong in our party. We need to acknowledge this and redouble our efforts.

None of this is to underplay the real and laudable achievements Labour has made on women’s rights across the country. Nor is it to suggest we have made no progress on equality and diversity in the party, after all Harriet Harman was elected deputy leader in the last election for the post, Kezia Dugdale has just been elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party and Sadiq Khan’s nomination as our mayoral candidate is a big step forward for minority representation at senior levels of the party.

Nonetheless we have to acknowledge that since Margaret Thatcher was elected as Leader of the Conservative Party, Labour has now elected seven white men in a row to lead ours.

One day I would like to see AWS scrapped as obsolete and unnecessary. Clearly that day has yet to come. Labour is meant to be the party that recognises structural inequalities sometimes have to be overcome by intervention, from the state or otherwise. Recent events suggest that when it comes to gender equality it’s not Labour’s radicals who have taken power, but Labour’s conservatives.

Alex Ross Shaw is a councillor in Bradford

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21 Responses to “The leadership election and Corbyn’s shadow cabinet show that Labour needs All Women Shortlists more than ever”

  1. John P Reid says:

    If I the only been Labour Party members voting, with Affiliates disregarded
    If we had managed to explain to those to young to remember that this sort of experiment nearly destroyed us in the 89’s and saying it’s better to lose in a far left manifesto as its moral, ignores the fact that any labour gun illite with a majority under 1,000 standing again in 2017 ,2018 ought to watch themselves as local elections are fought on national issues

    Then maybe Yvette would have won,as Andy’s campaign was so bad, she would have won it on merit
    The deputy leadership, saw two centre right, female candidates in the last three,both had the anyone but Watson tag, considering one of the male candidates Ben Bradshaw had this Tom Watson partly win, due to transfers from Bradshaw, was it sexist that he won,no, had he not win on the third round,could one of the females beat him,due to their combined vote, who knows but it wouldn’t have been on gender, but their voters dislike of Watson

    So their we have it ,we could have had females, not on their gender but to stop those who won,winning due to a dislike of their policies,

    Have both the left and right tried to use AWS to impose their candidates to stop people from opposite wings,yes

    Does it matter, we’ve had some very good,and some appealing female candidates,and as a result the Tories have won seats

    For the record unless you call Gordon brown not being elected leader,isn’t it 8 males since Margaret thatcher,who’ve been elected labour leader,not 7 as stated

  2. Tafia says:

    Apart from the fact that 2 of the four candidates for leader were women, and just over half the shadow cabinet posts are held by women, all women short lists are discriminatory.

  3. ” Labour has a much larger talent pool of female MPs than the Conservatives and we’ve still failed to elect a woman leader.”

    Yes, but who would be electable? Yvette Cooper, Rachel Reeves, Liz Kendall possibly -but are all so right wing!

    I quite like Liz Kendall, she seems a genuinely nice person, and I’m very sorry she was subject to such abuse as she was during the leadership contest. But she does need to get in tune with Labour values a little more. They all need to learn some economics too and why their preferred brand of austerity economics, and neo-liberalism, neither works nor is acceptable to Labour followers.

    I’m sure Prof Steve Keen at Kingston Uni would be happy to help if they ask nicely!

  4. @Tafia – I address those points in the article to be fair – the point is that having two candidates in the leadership election is really the least we should expect as a party, and they came last. It’s about how we make that jump to actually getting a woman leader. As for the Shadow Cabinet, I’m not sure anyone really believes that was the plan all along. They effed up with the big jobs and did some desperate changes to quell the storm. As I said to a friend last night, it’s hard to get excited about a 50:50 shadow cabinet (or more) when all the big jobs are in the hands of men. And the statement about 19th century hierarchy was just embarrassing.

    @petermartin2001 – Well I’d argued all the ones you name are far more electable than Corbyn but as I say in the article – Diane Abbott is ideologically very similar to Corbyn yet his votes transferred to Sadiq Khan and she did poorly. She also did poorly in 2010 too. Kendall is very much in tune with Labour’s values.

  5. Reconstruct says:

    The party is one step away from the precipice, and you think the important issue is all-women shortlists?

  6. Madasafish says:

    Obviously the Party needs all women shortlists.

    Most of the members vote as if men were superior to women or women are not capable. It’s called prejudice..

    I would re-educate them..

  7. Ryland says:

    Might it just be that selection meetings feel that men meet the criteria they have for selection better than women

  8. Bob says:

    AWS, when you have Labour MPs going to meeting which are divided on the basis of gender, You Watson were there, why did you not protest?

  9. @Reconstruct – I don’t think it’s the most important issue but clearly it is something we need to consider. It was written more as something to acknowledge as Harriet Harman steps down from frontline politics. AWS is still a big issue in local constituencies and I have had debates with men and women who are opposed. I don’t think saving the party and considering how we improve senior representation of women are mutually exclusive.

  10. Tafia says:

    Alex Ross-Shaw @Tafia – I address those points in the article to be fair – the point is that having two candidates in the leadership election is really the least we should expect as a party, and they came last.

    That is complete and utter drivel from start to finish and shows a paucity of intellect I find staggering in an elected official. They cam 3 and 4 th because that’s how good they were (or how bad they were, depending on your viewpoint) not because they sit down to piss.

    The article started of sounding like the whining of a poor loser and your comments further along reinforce that.

  11. Tafia says:

    Alex Ross-Shaw Kendall is very much in tune with Labour’s values.

    You are of course taking the fucking piss. If you think Corbyn has the potential to be an electoral disaster it’s nothing on how badly Kendall would fare.

    Start dealing with reality. Blair has fucked the Labour party good and proper in the eyes of the rank & file and this is the inevitable backlash – it’s taken a while, but it’s here. The people Labour aim at have changed – they no longer want triangulation and consensus and grey suits who are part of the establishment who speak at them instead of to them. They no longer have the time for wankers like that. Wait for the deselctions to start come 2020. They want partisan politics and when you get changes like that they last a generation. Start accepting it and start working with it because it ain’t going away any time soon.

    It’s no good talking home ownership to a core vote where a significant chunk cannot afford a house and never will be able to It’s no good talking benefit caps when a significant chunk of your core vote, that are in work, are reliant on those benefits. It’s no good not backing unions in their fight for better wages when their membership are actually your voters – and I could go on and on about how Labour has not only failed the very people it is supposed to serve, but has ground them down even further and taken an active role in.

    Learn one lesson from this and remember it. You do not have a right to exist as a party and you do not have a right to a single vote. You eeither serve a purpose or you are irrelevant.

    Here’s a little task for you. Have a think about what sort of lifestyle and life quality a single person on minimum wage should have and a couple on minimum wage should have. Then think about how high the minimum wage should be to afford it and start bloody fighting for it. Make yourself of some sort of use – because for the last 3 decades ypou’ve been of little use at all.

    Corbyn is not an extremeist. His views and beliefs would not be out of place in any social democrat party anywhere in northern Europe.

  12. Fred says:

    Positive discrimination, allows you to hit targets and nothing else. Otherwise its so very crap.

  13. RB2 says:

    a couple thoughts:

    1) So do you think that male candidates have been preferred in various Labour internal elections because Labour members are sexist? If so are AWS really the answer?

    2) re Angela Eagle being ‘infinitely more qualified’ than McDonnell for being Shadow Chancellor – well my arse is infinitely more qualified than the current Shadow Chancellor.

  14. Anne says:

    I disagree with all women short lists. What we need is people with ability and have leadership skills – leadership is certainly not easy and I do not see Mr C possessing any leadership ability what so ever. The most important job of government is the security of the nation and secondly sound economic policies.

    I am disappointed with the outcome of the leadership and am in favour of forming a new party with sound social democratic policies.

  15. Anne says:

    I disagree with all women short lists. What is more important is having people with ability. I am disappointed with the out come of the leadership – I do not see JC as possessing any leadership ability. The most important function of government is the security of the nation and secondly sound economic policies – neither of these are coming from JC.

    I am in favour of the formation of a new social Democratic Party.

  16. Tafia says:

    I am disappointed with the outcome of the leadership and am in favour of forming a new party with sound social democratic policies.

    Really? On the North European model perhaps? Oh – that would be similar to Corbyn then.

  17. Anne says:

    I believe we should be staying in Europe and NATO

    I don’t believe that JC is seeing the big picture. Not all constituents are like his London area – I also read he is surrounding himself with Ken Livingstone advisors. This is an absolute gift to the lib dems who before the election of JC were close to being eradicated. Tim Farron, leader of the lib dems has cleaned up in his Westmorland constituent – taking both Conservative and Labour voters with him. If he can produce the same across both England and Scotland then there could be a real revival of Lib Dems. John Woodcock in Barrow will certainly struggle to hold his seat under JC leadership. What I see is the continued downward spiral for the Labour Party under JC. The Liberal Party was in existence long before the Labour Party – joined with the social democrats is widening its appeal to the centre ground which the majority of people occupy.

  18. John P Reid says:

    Anne, lthough o agree with a lot of what you say, believe me ,those ex labour voters who don’t want Jeremy will abstain, they’re on the right of labour,and the Libdems are still to the left of them, they will tolerate the Tories,
    In 1981 Shirley Williams, was far the left of thatcher,
    The question is if there’s only a 60% turnout, in 2020 and labour get 5m votes, will the toires still only on 11.3m votes see their percentage go up,to 40% by that detention the Libdems would only go up 12% with labour falling 13%
    and others due to a low turnout like ukip going up 4%

  19. Anne says:

    Thanks John P – you are probably right the ex Labour members will probably abstain. I actually like Shirly Williams. I have not decided which way to go yet – will wait and see how things develop.

  20. Tafia says:

    to the centre ground which the majority of people occupy.

    That is rubbish and shows a total lack of understanding of the political specturm.

    The majority belong to the committed right or the committed left. The hallowed ‘centre’ is smaller than the people that can’t even be arsed to vote.

    And as for the hankering for a social democratic party, personally I don’t think you have any idea about northern europe social democrat models. Corbyn is a social democrat and the only northern europe model social democratic party in the UK is actually the SNP. I have a sneaking suspicion that you mistakenly believe Blairism/New Labour was social democrat. It wasn’t – far from it.

  21. Anne says:

    Tarfia please do not make assumptions about my knowledge base and, if possible, try and base your statements with evidence rather than opinion and what you think – take a leaf out of John Ps responses – he gives us some figures to back up his claims – for example – how do you know how many people occupy the centre ground – what evidence have you got. Try also to be less aggressive in your statements – I know this may be a new approach for you but please do try. This is after all the approach that JC is trying to foster which I do approve of.

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