This article was first published on LabourList on Monday September 12th
There was been much shouting and flailing across political cyberspace yesterday, based on the substance of an article in the Independent talking of a ‘women-only’ event at Labour conference.
Firstly, I think it is only fair to point out that the majority of people debating this – both male and female – have no objection to women-only events; you only have to look back throughout the last few years to see that other gatherings and conferences have gone without a hitch. What is different this time, however, can be captured in the following line:
“There will be formal resolutions based on suggestions from female members who are being invited to the platform to put their case on education, childcare, the economy and the NHS, as well as party rules.”
I don’t want to get into the debate of whether men should be allowed to attend women-only events – I think there is a need for individual minority groups to have their own space for debate, discussion and whatnot – but if decisions are to be made on key issues, should we not all have a say? Will these ‘formal resolutions’ have input from all other groups, or just this one?
People’s queries are valid, and it’s right we question what this means and ask for clarification (it is, after all, a newspaper article and should be treated with some scepticism) – but that doesn’t mean anyone annoyed is sexist or has a deep-seated urge to suppress women.
Indeed, the best summation of the situation has come not from a party stalwart, but a 13-year-old girl.
But, in all of the finger-pointing and voice raising, people seem to be over-looking a more worrying statement. Because, for me? This is the biggest problem with the article:
“One demand that is expected to be passed is the proposal by Ms Harman for there always to be a woman in Labour’s leadership, either as deputy or as leader”
This line, of course, is referring to proposals in the latest draft of the Refounding Labour report* to be leaked:
It has been suggested that this could be guaranteed by insisting that whenever a leadership election took place, each leadership candidate would run on a joint ticket with their favoured deputy.
– Each candidate for Leader should be required, during the PLP nomination period, to declare a Deputy Leader running mate of the opposite gender
– The nominations would be for the Leadership candidate but would be made in the knowledge of the candidate’s running mate.
– The Electoral College ballot would be between Leadership candidates only, but the Deputy Leader running mate would be declared on the ballot paper.
(Section D, Part 2: Gender balance within the Leadership Team)
Whilst I appreciate the genuine sentiments behind these proposals I could not, in good conscience, support them as they stand or be a member of any party that did so.
I am all for greater representation of women in the Labour Party, but this? This is the wrong solution.
On a purely basic level, I’m not quite sure anyone has thought through the impracticalities of this – for either gender.
This doesn’t empower those women already elected, it makes them more reliant on men – they must seek the endorsement of one to stand as leader, or they must wait to be asked to become a running mate. And if, in the latter situation, the male decides not to run any more? The running mate must step down.
And what if two women want to stand together? Or nobody wants to stand? What if – and I hope this never happens – we don’t have any female members? What if you like one half of a duo but not the other? If an elected leader stands down, is it right that their counterpart has to resign – yet if a deputy steps down, the leader can simply pick another?
Of course it isn’t – and that’s why we should not allow this to happen.
If we want a female leader, if we want to increase the number of female MPs, we simply can’t choose a gimmicky proposal we profess is radical when, in reality, it’s regressive. What we need is to start from the very bottom – encourage local women to stand as councillors and encourage current councillors to stand as parliamentary candidates.
Yes, it will take time, but I would rather wait than create artificial gender equality where there is no need. Johanna Baxter – the party’s best asset these last few months – has said these are just drafts, and that many issues have been discussed and progress has been made.
Personally, I can only hope that this particular proposal never sees the light of day again.
(*The report can be found and downloaded from Johanna Baxter’s blog.)