Posts Tagged ‘all women shortlists’

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

16/09/2015, 10:19:09 PM

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.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Ten hard truths for Labour

23/07/2015, 05:28:13 PM

Following Tristram Hunt’s call for “a summer of hard truths” Labour Uncut is running a short series laying them out. After that bombshell poll, here are some about the party itself from Rob Marchant.

1. The Labour Party has not merely just lost an election after five years of drift; it has been getting worse since. It has now fallen deep into an existential crisis of purpose, with a large portion of its membership worryingly in denial about what the British public will actually vote for.

2. The current leadership election is symptomatic of that crisis. Like in the early 80s with Healey and Benn, many in the party are no longer expecting to get the best candidate, merely looking to avoid a disastrous one.

3. For those who believe Liz Kendall was over-egging the pudding in saying that Labour has “no God-given right to exist”, and that it has earned a permanent place in the British Top Two of political parties, some reading about the Liberal Party in the 1920s is required.

4. A Corbyn win would immediately present such an existential threat to the party. In short, the situation is far worse than the leftward drift that led to the Foot years, because (a) the country has moved right since then and hence less sympathetic, (b) Foot was a principled man who did not apologise for fanatics and (c) we hadn’t just been wiped out in our Scottish heartlands just before he was elected.

5. Labour needs to wake up and realise that Unite already represents an existential threat to it and does not have the party’s best interests at heart. It will at some point destroy itself through its increasing irrelevance to both Labour and its own members, but it could well take Labour down with it. It must not be allowed to.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Prime Minister Miliband’s first U-turn: scrapping gender equality around the cabinet table

20/04/2015, 06:48:36 PM

Any coalition deal with the other parties that involves sharing cabinet positions, will inevitably mean the percentage of women sat around Labour’s top table will get smaller.

This is not due to backsliding on Ed Miliband’s part. Far from it. He promised during the Labour leadership contest – and has consistently repeated it since then – that he will deliver 50:50 gender equality around the cabinet table (and has more or less done so with his current shadow team).

It is simply that the stock of female ministers from the other potential coalition partners is extremely low. And despite watery protestations to the contrary, all the current polls indicate that Miliband will need either the SNP or the Lib Dems to join his administration in order to form a stable working majority in the Commons.

Only one of the SNP’s six MPs in the last parliament was female and, although led by a woman, just 36 per cent of their parliamentary candidates are women. (And given Nicola Sturgeon is rather preoccupied serving as Scotland’s First Minister, she would not, presumably, be available herself?)

Similarly, just seven of the Lib Dems’ 57 MPs in the last parliament were women and five of them are likely to lose their seats (although, to be fair, it’s perfectly possible this number will be replenished with newcomers).

But from day one of the next government, there will be precious few women MPs from among either the Lib Dems or SNP experienced enough in frontline politics to be considered for cabinet positions.

The only choice open to Miliband, if he’s serious about honouring his pledge, is to appoint a greater number of Labour women to meet the shortfall. This, in turn, means appointing fewer men who currently sit in the shadow cabinet.

The in-tray of an incoming prime minister is deep enough without creating that kind of explosive row and in the process generating an officer-class of senior, overlooked men who have slogged away on the frontbench for years only to have their careers ripped away from them.

No, look instead for Miliband to pepper the junior and middle ministerial ranks with women as cover for the Labour-led government’s first U-turn.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

If Labour really wants more working class MPs, it should insist more candidates are local

31/12/2013, 10:25:05 AM

by Kevin Meagher

The Labour party has always been a strange brew. Intellectual leftists have rubbed up alongside middle-class progressives and gesture politics poseurs. But the party’s strength remains the support it draws from the industrial, urban working-class of the north and midlands.

Yet while the former groups remain heavily in evidence in today’s party, there are now a decreasing number of people on the Labour benches in parliament that look and sound like the majority of working class people who actually vote Labour.

It’s part of a wider problem. A recent report by the Policy Exchange think tank looking into the public appointments system found that “socio-economic background…is neglected by most governmental bodies responsible for public appointments and for equality policies” and recommends addressing the “forgotten dimensions of diversity”.

The report cites the example of magistrates who, as volunteers, “do not need to achieve legal qualifications or a particular career level” before being appointed and yet are still overwhelmingly drawn from a narrow middle-class professional elite. In Manchester and Salford, nearly nine out of ten lay magistrates are from higher managerial and professional backgrounds. Justice, like politics, fails to look like the people it serves.

Plus ça change. The party of working-class heroes Ernest Bevin and Nye Bevan was still led by public schoolboys like Clement Attlee (Haileybury) and Stafford Cripps (Winchester College), Hugh Gaitskell (ditto) and Hugh Dalton (Eton).

At this point it’s important to caveat the whole line of argument about Labour and its diminishing working class-ness (as Eric Joyce recently pointed out). Rather than a single group, ‘working class’ vis-à-vis Labour politics, now has two meanings.

The first definition covers the sons and daughters of manual workers who have gone on to university and if not a career in our most august professions, (which remain defiantly nepotistic) at least had office jobs (often, courtesy of politics) before becoming MPs.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Open primaries not narrow shortlists are what the Labour party needs to re-connect with voters

26/07/2012, 07:00:21 AM

by Peter Watt

There has been a lot of discussion in the Labour party recently about the narrow pool from which the current parliamentary Labour party (PLP) is drawn.  Basically the concern is that there are too many white middle class graduates who don’t represent the community as a whole.

So this month we have seen Chuka Umunna launch a Future Candidates Programme aimed at encouraging more business figures to stand for the Labour Party.  As the shadow business secretary said:

“Our party – all parties in fact – must reflect what Britain looks like and the jobs which people do.  Not only do we want more people setting up businesses, leading businesses and working in businesses, we want more people from the world of business in our ranks – from our councillors to our MPs.”

And then this week Dennis MacShane has expressed concern about the paucity of working class MPs.  He has suggested “all working class shortlists” for some parliamentary selections.  The idea being that we could use quotas to increase the numbers of non-middle class candidates and ultimately MPs.

Dennis proposes that 10% of parliamentary selections should be reserved for people on the minimum wage so that the pool from which our politicians are drawn stops being so narrow.  As Dennis said:

“The country desperately needs new political ideas, but the intellectual reservoir from which we draw our political leaders has become a paddling pool, when what we actually need is a raging torrent to get the country going again,”

The Labour party already has a long and honourable tradition of using quotas to increase the representation of women MP’s and indeed councillors.  At regular intervals there is also discussion of using quotas to increase the representation of other underrepresented groups and in particular minority ethnic candidates.

But I think that all of these initiatives increasingly start from the wrong diagnosis of the problem.  The diagnosis is that the Labour party, or any of its rivals, are basically sound.

That as presently constructed, political parties are the best way to achieve social justice and progress and that once people realise this then they will want to be a part of it.

Yes, there are some institutional biases that influence selections; but overcome these by some form of positive action and all is well.

I no longer think that this is right.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

All-women shortlist for Manchester Central?

19/03/2012, 03:28:16 PM

Labour Uncut has learned that party bosses are considering whether to impose an all-women shortlist in the forthcoming process to select Tony Lloyd’s successor in the Manchester Central constituency.

Lloyd, the former chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, is set to step down from the House of Commons to run as Labour’s candidate in the forthcoming election to become Greater Manchester’s first police and crime commissioner. Under party rules he will need to relinquish his Westminster seat ahead of the November election for the PCC, triggering a by-election.

Lloyd was interviewed by an NEC panel for the police commissioner’s role last Saturday. Surprisingly his was the only candidacy, making his “selection” as Labour’s PCC candidate academic.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour’s identity problems go much deeper than all women shortlists

13/03/2012, 12:20:04 PM

by Ben Cobley

In Life and Fate, his epic novel of family, Stalingrad and totalitarianism, the Soviet-era journalist Vasily Grossman wrote:

“Human groupings have one main purpose: to assert everyone’s right to be different, to be special, to think, feel and live in his or her own way. People join together in order to win or defend this right. But this is where a terrible, fateful error is born: the belief that these groupings in the name of a race, a God, a party or a State are the very purpose of life and not simply a means to an end. No! The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities and in his right to these peculiarities.”

Grossman maybe stretches his point a little too far. Nevertheless his polemic makes a powerful and important point: that groups can become forces of oppression, not just against other groups but against individuality and humanity itself.

This happens when they becomes ends in themselves, when they take on a life of their own and become self-sustaining. In Grossman’s Soviet Union this is what happened to the Communist identity – once it became a pre-requisite for career advancement and entry to nomenklatura, it lost its idealistic elements and became a malign force.

On 2nd March, Uncut published an article of mine about contemporary liberal-left identity politics, in which I questioned the continuing existence of All Women Shortlists (AWS) and other forms of positive discrimination in Labour Party processes. The article provoked a (generally) considered response on LabourList from Luke Akehurst of the NEC, plus plenty of other lively responses on comment threads and elsewhere.

The background to what I was arguing in the piece was summed up in this sentence: “Institutionalising separate identities as we do is a road to nowhere and nothingness.”

So what does this really mean? After all, when we talk about identity problems we normally mean lack of identity: for example that Ed Miliband lacks identity, or that the Labour Party could do with more identity.

My own interpretation is that identity itself is often the problem.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The Labour party’s double standards on all women short-lists

06/03/2012, 07:00:01 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Last week Ben Cobley wrote for Uncut about all women shortlists. It wasn’t a reactionary rant. He wasn’t dressed in a batman costume, sitting at the top of Big Ben when he wrote it. The tone was measured and the points reasoned.

While most comment, on both sides of the discussion was similarly nuanced, some of the responses were pavlovian, at best. Little effort to engage with what had been written, just a standard rehearsal of long established positions.

Yesterday, Luke Akehurst gave us one of the better versions of the conventional case for AWS over at Labour List.

In theory, I should support what Luke is saying.

I believe in all women shortlists. I see the logic of why AWS is needed – a second best solution in a third best world. And not enough has been achieved to achieve greater women’s representation. 81 female Labour MPs out of a parliamentary Labour party of 258 still leaves Labour nearly 50 MPs short of achieving equality.

But Luke and similar defenders of AWS lose me.

In his piece, Ben raises the rhetorical question – why only shortlists for women? Surely the same logic could be applied to other groups?

He’s right.

Ben is consistent in the way he draws his conclusions. All types of discrimination are wrong, therefore preferential shortlists should be ended.

If only the official party line, which backs positive action to tackle inequality, were similarly rigorous.

For of all those who manned (so to speak) the barricades in defence of AWS, equality seems to stop at gender.  Zero discussion about ethnic minority or disabled communities. Equality is a principle worth fighting for, but not worth applying equally.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

All women shortlists are an insider’s charter

02/03/2012, 01:30:22 PM

by Ben Cobley

“White people love playing ‘divide & rule’ We should not play their game”, these words, tweeted by Diane Abbott, ignited a storm of accusations and denials of racism and opened a window into the complexities of identity politics.

While it is doubtful that many white people were properly offended by the tweet, it does expose Abbott’s assumption that black and white people should be divided, and that they have different (and opposing) interests.

The “divide and rule” agenda that Abbott talked about in fact applies more to her in this instance. She was clearly trying to draw a racial drawbridge between black and white people.

This is the sort of political philosophy that George W. Bush espoused when he said, “You are either with us or against us”; one group’s identity is defined opposite to the other – and if you do not share the dictates of your own group’s “leaders”, then you are letting your side down. Bim Adewunmi herself made a strong argument about this.

As it is highly unlikely Diane Abbott is a racist, how did she get into such a tangle?

Part of the answer surely lies in the way that certain curious, arcane attitudes are still widespread in liberal-left circles.

Abbott herself responded to the tweeting controversy by saying that she was talking about the politics of colonialism. But she clearly was not discussing history in her tweet, and that is where the colonialist worldview belongs – and where the anti-colonialist mentality will have to find a home sooner or later. It is hopelessly outdated in a country where the evidence of integration is all around us, not least in the many children and young adults of mixed race.

The unthinking identity politics of the liberal-left maintains and extends this anti-colonialist narrative though, by simplistically inverting the racist, sexist and ruling class ideologies of past times.

So it is that dark skin is favoured over light, female over male, while the possession of assets and money is deemed as something to be ashamed of.

This attitude is woven into Labour Party practices and procedures, especially when it comes to candidate selection.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

All who oppose quotas are not knuckle-scrapers

26/07/2011, 12:00:29 PM

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.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon