Our shared challenge
Thank you for your letter which raises important issues not just for our party but for our country. The underrepresentation of women in Parliament is mirrored by underrepresentation in our boardrooms, in our legal system and at the top of our public services. We need to change the culture of work if we are to tackle this ingrained problem.
This is not just about representation, it is about policy. ‘Women’s issues’ should not be segmented or marginalised – they are often about men too. All of us need to fight for high quality and affordable child-care; all of us need to promote a work-life balance; all of us need to ensure that money reaches the purse as well as the wallet.
Combating domestic violence, tackling the shockingly low rape conviction rate and increasing access to maternity and sexual health services are central, not peripheral, to our vision for a fairer society.
But it would be a mistake to think that women are only interested in ‘women’s issues’. We need equality in our economy and in our society. We need to fight the Tory-Lib Dem attack on jobs and growth. This requires men and women to fight for change together.
A movement embedded in and reflective of the communities we serve
As I said last month, one of the key planks of my campaign will be to look at the systemic issues preventing women from entering and thriving in politics. I am determined to break down those barriers so that women see being a politician as a job for them where they can achieve change. To do this it needs to be a job which suits their lifestyles and where they can realise their ambitions. I am determined to tackle the attrition rate of female MPs that means only a third of Labour women were elected before 2001 compared to 50% for men.
This is partly about getting the rules right, making sure in policy and in practice we have a target of 50:50 representation at all levels, but also about culture. We can’t continue with a political system that imposes unending demands; that places women and men under different levels of scrutiny; that asks people to choose between a career and a life. Without cultural change, women and men alike simply won’t want to get involved. And that makes equal representation almost impossible.
I have already met a group of women Labour MPs (those who are supporting me and those who aren’t) to discuss some of the questions you raise in the letter. We have agreed to take work forward over the coming months during the campaign to develop strong policies that will attract back the women voters we have lost.
But of course this is not just about MPs. It’s about an equal voice and equal representation in the Labour movement. And it is about the message we send to women outside the party. I am keen to engage with as many people as possible, so please do get in touch if you want to be involved.
I want an open and welcoming Labour movement rooted in promoting equality; a movement embedded in and reflective of communities where people come together and change the world around them. I see this vision as key to achieving our goals of equal participation and equal representation.
Set-out below are answers to your specific questions:
1. Will you speak out on issues that affect women (from domestic abuse, to the rape conviction rate, to childcare and family issues, to poisonous media coverage of women in politics), ensure they are a genuine priority for the Party, and not leave them solely for women politicians to respond to?
Absolutely, yes. One of the many galling aspects of the current Government (and their supporters in the media) is this approach towards defendants in rape cases. In a country where a rape is reported every 34 minutes and there is evidence of significant underreporting, anonymity is hardly the priority. As Harriet Harman and Caroline Flint have pointed out, the Con-Dem policy is an affront to justice. I will oppose it vigorously.
We need to be pro-active as well. As Foreign Secretary I was always clear that issues that affect women’s rights should not be sidelined and left for women politicians. When dealing with Afghanistan, I made sure that that any reconciliation with the Taliban was dependent on maintaining the guarantee of women’s rights and equal participation laid down in the Afghan Constitution. The UK led the world in having a clear action plan to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. I also supported the active Women’s Group within the FCO seeking better representation of women in Senior Civil Service.
I believe an equal gender balance in the workplace is important for fairness and better for productivity. That’s why I was always keen to engage women in my team. Most Special Advisors to the Labour Government were men. I employed two women with young families as a job share. I also sought the appointment of a women minister for my team.
As Leader, I would continue to speak out on issues that affect women and encourage all my colleagues to do the same. We made huge strides forward in Government with two Equality Acts, rights to flexible working and the national minimum wage – all of which were key to women’s experience of the work place. We must build on and extend these achievements. The gender pay gap still needs closing particularly for those in part time work. We should take another look at high and low pay, we should ask employers to advertise jobs as part-time or a job share unless there is good reason not, and we should look at tackling gender segregation in apprenticeships.
On policy we also have to listen to and engage with women so that we understand and reflect their concerns and aspirations. Whether it’s taking forward flexible working or ensuring more women take their proper place at the top of public and private organisations there is still a massive agenda on gender equality. We also need to consider the implications of demographic change on the lives of women, with women living longer and being active in the labour market whilst engaging in the lives of their grandchildren.
2. Will you support 50:50 gender balance in the Shadow Cabinet and support women’s representation across the Shadow Government operation, and will you appoint a Shadow Cabinet-level Minister for Women and ensure that it is treated as a key part of the Shadow team? Will you support women standing in Local Government, and ensure that existing rules around gender representation in Labour Group Executives are also applied to Local Government Executive and Shadow Executive structures, leading to a position where Labour Groups and Council Cabinets across the country reflect the communities they serve? Will you commit to maintain All-Women Shortlists, ensure they are properly and transparently implemented, and will you commit to actively making the case for quotas and All-Women Shortlists when they come under attack?
We need to make sure our party represents our communities. And yes I am fully supportive of a target for 50:50 gender balance at all levels.
I am determined to get a 50:50 balance in PLP by the start of next parliament so we can have that in the Cabinet too. To achieve this I would:
• Defend and extend the use of AWS
• Tackle the attrition rate of women MPs through high quality mentoring, support and training delivered through an equalities fund (see below)
• Recruit new members and activate existing members by making sure the culture of our party and our politics is open, supportive and accommodating
To reflect the current make-up of the parliamentry party, I am committed to at least a third of all Shadow spokespeople being women. I am also committed to at least a third of Shadow Spokespeople outside the Shadow Cabinet being women. I would appoint to the Shadow Cabinet a stand alone Women’s spokesperson.
At a local level, I would want to see local parties working towards a 50:50 balance on Labour groups, Labour group executives and shadow Labour groups on councils to match our rules on party positions.
I also want to see us achieve this 50:50 gender balance among our representatives at the EU level.
Candidate selection and support
I am a supporter of All Women Shortlists. They have a vital role to play in improving female representation in parliament. In 1997, when AWS was first used, the number of women MPs rose from 37 to 101 (from 13.7% to 24.2% of the Parliamentary party). In 2001, when AWS was not used, the number fell to 95 (23.1%). When AWS was re-introduced in 2005 the number rose again to 98 (27.5%): the majority of Labour MPs first elected in 2005 were women. Currently there are 81 women MPs (around a third) in the PLP.
I will defend AWS and I will use them to work towards gender balance in the PLP. I will also make sure the process is clear and transparent, so that everyone in the party, from top to bottom, understands the system. Too much of the negativity at local party level is because the rules on AWS are unclear or inconsistently applied.
Quotas are necessary but not sufficient. As the Speaker’s Conference on political representation highlighted earlier year, we need high quality training, mentoring and support. We also need to understand more of the reasons why women leave parliament too.
I pay tribute to the work the Women’s PLP, the Labour Women’s Network and the Fabian Women’s Network have done in this area. Their success needs to be built on and expanded. And we need to raise money to take this forward. So I will look at establishing an equalities fund that local and regional parties can bid for – with matched funding – to host mentoring and training events.
Finally, my plans for a democratically elected party chair will provide further opportunity for a focus on and support for fair and transparent candidate selection processes.
We need to encourage more women to join the party otherwise we will never get the equal representation we need. My vision for doubling the number of party members (as a starting point) and for an open and inclusive Labour movement, built on principles of equality and fairness, can help us achieve our goals. And I see this as a real opportunity. If we are more outward facing, if we seek to engage and reflect the communities we serve, we will not only build the party but will encourage more women to become involved.
The culture of politics
Just as important as getting the rules right, we need to tackle head on the culture of politics. This is a culture that places too much stress on family relationships; that places unreasonable demands on women and men alike.
So amongst other things, we need to take a look at the hours of the House of Commons, and we must have employment conditions that represent best practice in terms of maternity and compassionate leave. The corrosive practice of briefing and counter briefing needs to come to an end.
We also need to take into account the fact that women often enter politics later in life than their male counterparts. The impact of ageism on women needs to be properly considered and addressed.
And our party needs to match this too. At our best we are supportive, welcoming and accommodating and that is what I mean by our open and inclusive Labour movement.
3. We need a fully supported and well-resourced national, regional and local organisational and campaigning structure within the Party that allows women to come together, to decide upon campaigning priorities, and to have clear routes to feed in to Party policy making. Will you support this and, if so, how will you make it a reality?
I am determined that our party becomes a living breathing movement that campaigns for things like affordable housing, safer streets and high quality early years services. For this to become a reality we need to be organised and we need to bring together the talents and interests of all members of our movement. So yes I am fully supportive of autonomy for women and others to come together and decide on campaigning priorities. I am also clear that our party must once again be comfortable with debate. We can’t go back to the 80s where we were characterised by dissent and the 90s where we were only obsessed with discipline.
4. Will you take personal responsibility for a cultural change from the top to the bottom of the Party to tear down the barriers that stop women getting or staying involved? Will you ensure that there is better training and guidelines for CLP Officers to ensure that local Parties proactively support women’s involvement? Will you ensure that senior women in the Party are never again ‘invisible’, both as spokespeople for the Party in the media, and as internal decision-makers?
Yes absolutely. I am always clear that my family comes first and as Leader I will insist that our time together remains our time together. I would encourage all my colleagues to do the same so we can promote a more family supportive way of doing politics.
As I have said above, I pay tribute to the work that the Women’s PLP and others have done in terms of training and support for women throughout the party and I would encourage similar support at Local Government level. Local councillors can and in many cases do provide invaluable guidance and advice to women in the party.
To support this work I will seek to raise money for an equalities fund (as laid out above). This would help make sure our support is locally targeted and has buy-in from local parties
5. Too many women are put off politics because of how they are treated. Will you install a transparent and accessible complaints procedure that takes complaints seriously and acts quickly?
Yes. I would want to make sure our complaints procedure was in line with best pratice and am happy to look at this if elected.