I stood for this election proudly as a woman and I became the first black candidate for election to any major political Party in the UK. I believe that a Parliament that is genuinely reflective of the electorate should be a priority for all of us and that Labour should lead the way, as it has always done.
But despite Labour’s fantastic record on bringing women into Parliament, we have simply not done enough. For me, politicians have bought into the idea that only men in suits can be leaders and that only men in suits have the credibility to attend major economic conventions. But the leaders of the future will not always look like the leaders of the past and if we are to be truly progressive then our vision must be progressive and radical too.
For too long I have seen, in Parliament, a lack of general respect for women, making it harder for women to rise through the ranks of Government. Parliament is not women friendly, it is not conducive to being a working mother and it is not conducive to helping a more diverse generation of women enter and flourish in Parliament. This is so evident in the number of women who step down from politics prematurely.
The last election campaign demonstrated just how stagnated we had become within the party on this issue. As lovely and as talented as Sarah Brown is, she should never have been the most high profile woman in the election campaign. We have talent at the top of the party and those women, who ironically are the ones leading the fight against the Con Dem cuts, should’ve been more visible in the campaign.
We are the party of maternity and paternity pay, of child tax credits and Sure Start Centres, of tackling domestic violence and emphasising the need to increase rape convictions, we are the Party of all women short lists and of equalities legislation, we are the party of women, but at the last election the public could have been forgiven for forgetting that.
For my 30 years in politics and 23 years in Parliament, I have consistently stood up for women and women’s issues. From domestic violence to a woman’s right to choose I have championed the rights of women and debated and argued with men who have not. And I believe that that argument should take place, in a healthy way, right throughout our democracy. But we can only truly champion the rights of women and the needs of women if women are leading the charge themselves, and greater representation throughout our democracy would help achieve this.
As the only candidate to have been a councillor, I know how difficult it is for women to involve themselves in local government and I support the calls to make it easier for women, working mothers, black, LGBT and disabled women to enter into politics.
As I said at the beginning we have as much to do at the top of the party as we have at the bottom and so I do support the call for 50% Women in the Shadow Cabinet and for the Minister of Women to have a more prominent role in Cabinet.
These next few years are going to be difficult for women, as the first person in this leadership election to point out, one man’s public sector cut is another woman’s job loss and I will continue to argue for women during the budget debates. So many women in my constituency who are employed by the public sector will not only lose their jobs but the services they would hope to fall back upon. We must make our case loud and clear that we will not accept any rationale which burdens women disproportionately for the mistakes of a few greedy bankers. I will make this case as Labour Leader.