Thank you for writing to me about gender equality within the Labour Party. This is a crucial issue for the whole Labour movement and for women across the country.
Labour has always been the party of equality. But though we have made great progress as a result of campaigns often led by women in the Labour Party, we still don’t have equality for women in Britain and we still need a stronger voice for women in our Party too.
And most urgently we need to fight together to stop the new Tory-Liberal government’s shocking attack on women’s lives. Analysis by the House of Commons library, commissioned by Yvette, shows women will shoulder three quarters of the impact of the Budget cuts, and that’s deeply wrong.
It’s not just about financial support. Cutting things like the Child Tax Credit, Child Benefit and maternity grants – mostly paid directly to mothers – will have a profound impact on women and children’s lives. For some women it will mean having to work longer hours to make ends meet, so they can no longer get back to pick the kids up from school. For others it will mean having to give up work because they can no longer afford child care. Tory-Liberal Ministers still fail to understand that support for children is an essential part of supporting wider choices and equality for women too.
But it’s not just women with children who are being hit. Cuts to the state second pension, housing benefit, carers allowance and attendance allowance also hit women harder. Government plans to stop the roll out of the equal pay provisions in the Equality Act will allow discrimination against all women to persist. And that’s before the Spending Review later in the year, which threatens savage cuts in public services and jobs.
An immediate, urgent priority for the Labour Party is to campaign to prevent the coalition Government from agreeing a Spending Review settlement that unfairly hurts women – who are the majority of the users of public services and of the staff who deliver them.
We need a Leader who can take this fight to the Government and galvanise the Labour movement in support of it. If elected Leader I will do this with passion and conviction, and as someone with a strong track record in supporting women’s equality.
At the Treasury and as Secretary of State at DCSF I worked hard on policies to make life better for women in this country: the huge expansion in affordable childcare; more short breaks for families with disabled children; tax credits; and the Savings Gateway to help people on low incomes save for a rainy day, including carers, most of whom are women.
But I also believe strongly that part of supporting equality for women is getting men to do more in the family too. I am especially proud of the Think Fathers campaign we ran from DCSF in 2009-10. This was the first time Government had got solidly behind a message of this kind. ‘Think Fathers’ was pretty close to home for me personally too, as it is will be in every family where parents are working and trying to look after a home and children – and increasingly for older relatives too.
Campaigning on these issues and on other pressing concerns like ensuring the Government doesn’t scrap our progressive policies on equal pay is our responsibility. It can strengthen the Labour Party too. But to have any chance of doing this successfully we have to ‘put our own house in order’. In recent years we have made some progress, thanks to the efforts of campaigners like you and inspired by leading Labour women, no one more than Harriet Harman. But your questions highlight how much we still have to do, as well as also pointing to some practical and achievable measures we can take to make Labour a Party that women want to join, become active in and remain active in for the long term.
I believe we have to do better for all of those who are under-represented. This includes not only women but also Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, the disabled, and people from poorer backgrounds too. The work of Emily’s List and more recently of Bernie’s List and Dorothy’s List shows the effectiveness of investing in talent. We must learn from this.
I think we need our own fund to support people from under-represented groups to stand at every level for the party. That’s why I am proposing a Labour Party Diversity Fund. For every pound we raise as a party, from whatever source, we should set aside a given percentage for investment in the fund. Even a small proportion of each pound could make a difference to those needing help to stand and it would also give a voice to those who struggle to be heard.
Question one: 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?
Certainly – I led from the front on childcare and family policy as Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. If I become Leader it will be my responsibility to provide strong leadership on all of these issues for our Party. And I will be very pleased to do so.
Question two: a) Will you support a 50:50 gender balance in the Shadow Cabinet and support women’s representation across the Shadow Government operation, and b) will you appoint a Shadow Cabinet-level Minister for Women and ensure that it is treated as a key part of the Shadow team? c) Will you support women standing in Local Government, and d) 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? e) Will you commit to maintain All-Women Shortlists, ensure they are properly and transparently implemented, and f) will you commit to actively making the case for quotas and All-Women Shortlists when they come under attack?
a) Of course.
c) Encouraging more Labour women, of all ages and backgrounds, to stand for their council is an important way of working to get more women into senior positions across the Labour movement.
d) Definitely – we should have similar expectations and standards at every level and in all parts of the Party, even if we accept it may take longer to achieve parity in some rather than others.
e) All women shortlists have allowed us to break through a culture that didn’t support the selection of enough women. That culture still exists in Parliament and Harriet Harman is now leading the debate on how we address that – as we must to deliver the goal of 50 per cent women in the shadow cabinet and, over time, in the PLP too.
f) Without any hesitation – I believe All-Women shortlists are the right approach.
Question three: 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?
As Leader I would need to know that wherever members are seeking to get involved and to make their voices heard, there is a space in the Labour Party that enables that, including for women. We know that women’s voices are not always as strong as they should be in the Party and I would seek to support Labour women in building a strong women’s organisation. I’ve already said that I want Labour Party Head Office to have a full time youth officer: I want to protect the current Women’s Officer position, and allow the post holder to focus on building for women in the Labour Party and make sure that the post is at a more senior level than it has been in recent years.
Question four: 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?
During the recent General Election campaign there is no doubt that we failed to put our senior women at the forefront of our appeal to the public and that was wrong in itself as well as the wrong political decision. We have women in decision making capacities in all parts of the party, although not as many as we should, and the truth is we failed to make the most of them.
This is symptomatic of a wider issue. Despite getting a record number of women elected in 1997 we did not foster an environment in the PLP which allowed them to fulfil their collective potential, and we are only slowly transforming the way we work in Parliament. Where we allow an exclusive culture to grow we waste ability, and we will need all the talent and commitment of all our members and supporters to defeat the ConDems and their cuts.
I am proud of the fact that many of my leading supporters, such as Anne Snelgrove, Sarah McCarthy Fry, Barbara Keeley, Diana Johnson and Kerry McCarthy are women who worked closely with me in government. I am committed to challenging cultural barriers to women’s full involvement. I also recognise that part of the way to do this is to give better support to CLP officers, including training that could be delivered through the Labour Women’s Network and other routes.
Question five: 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 think this is essential. If a person is treated unfairly or discriminated against they need to be able to speak to someone quickly and in confidence. Trade unions deal with these issues every day and if elected Leader I would set up a review with trade union and other NEC colleagues and ask them to make recommendations on how we, as a predominantly volunteer-based organisation, can develop a fair and non-bureaucratic complaints procedure that allows us to learn from our mistakes and put them right swiftly.