This is the reply Ed Miliband sent to Lead for Women, in response to our letter to all the Labour leadership candidates calling on them to ‘lead for women’. We want to work with Ed, now he has been elected, to put his commitment into practice.
Dear Lead for Women signatories,
Thank you for your letter about the involvement of women in the Labour party. When I announced my intention to stand for leader, I pledged to ensure that we are a party of women and well as men.
Tackling inequality of all kinds is at the heart of my leadership campaign. To deal with gender discrimination we must confront the causes of inequality between the sexes. This has to happen at every level across our communities, our country and the world in which we live. However, you have asked me what I will do as Leader to address inequality within our party. The Labour party must lead by example and I am committed to ensuring that our party – the true party of the people – breaks down the barriers that prevent women rising to the top. If we as a party do not make significant strides towards genuine gender equality, how can we profess to be the party of equality and fairness for the country? The truth is that gender equality goes to the heart of Labour values and our sense of fairness. We cannot afford to rest when it comes to increasing representation, and we must keep pushing ourselves to improve equality.
I welcome the Lead for Women initiative, both because you have highlighted such an important problem as part of this leadership contest, and because your actions are a fantastic example of grassroots party members coming together and organising around issues that matter. I have been speaking about the need for this very kind of campaigning organisation and action as an example of how to rebuild our party and make it a winning force in British politics once again. I know that your campaign has been growing day by day, gathering momentum from all across the UK and all sections of our party.
I will respond to the questions you ask in turn:
1. Gender inequality is not a fight for women alone it is a struggle that everyone has to engage with. I know that different women face different barriers and care about different issues; from the economy and jobs, to health, education and foreign affairs. Of course, there are some issues which primarily affect women such as the horrors of domestic abuse and rape. Rape conviction levels in the UK must be improved and I am committed to ensuring the system works for the victims of this abhorrent crime. This is one reason why I support the continued existence of the DNA database, which has helped to bring so many rapists to justice.
On childcare, we need to move to a society where men and women share family responsibilities more equally and in a way that works for them. The Labour government took steps towards this by equalising the amount of unpaid leave a mother of father can take after the birth of their child. We must tackle head on the barriers to equal employment and pay. Far from staying silent, I believe it is the job of the party leader to develop policies that accept these as mainstream issues and ensure that they are dealt with as such. That’s why I have launched a campaign for a living wage, from which women would be the biggest beneficiaries because the current pay gap means that those working in jobs paid less than £7 an hour are predominantly women. We must also send a serious message to the media to treat women politicians on an equal basis with men, and to end the obsession with the make of their handbags, the colour of their shoes or their family’s arrangements for childcare.
2. I am proud to have been the first leadership candidate to support 50:50 gender balance in the Shadow Cabinet. The Labour Party has taken huge strides towards electing more women to Parliament, far more than any other party.We have many talented female MPs and it’s time that their talents and skills were fully utilised in Cabinet.
Having a Cabinet-level Shadow Women’s Minister as a visible and valued champion is essential, as is supporting and encouraging more women to stand for local government – because we need women to be fairly represented at all levels. Labour’s rules on gender representation in local councils are there for a reason and they must be implemented.
Our party changed the face of Westminster when so many Labour women were elected in 1997 but we remain far from achieving equal representation, both in our own parliamentary party, and across parliament as a whole. As things currently stand it would take some 200 years to reach parliamentary equality, which is clearly unacceptable. That’s why, whilst we strive for the day when All Women’s Shortlists are no longer needed because women’s voices are heard just as clearly as men’s, I will remain a strong supporter of All Women Shortlists as a practical tool to help us embody our values and tackle inequality.
As a strong supporter of House of Lords reform, I would also want to investigate what could be done to support fair women’s representation in a fully elected second chamber.
3. It is vital that the Labour party’s equalities structures are properly funded and resourced to continue to encourage diversity amongst our party membership and elected representatives.
I have spoken about the need for renewal and re-engagement to revitalise our party, and women’s diverse voices are just as central to that process as men’s, so I would encourage input as to how our structures could be strengthened and made more accessible. I am a strong supporter of the roles played by bodies such as the Labour Women’s Network and the Fabian Women’s Network, which are vital in the support that they give to women candidates and the policy contributions that they make. In addition to strengthening equality in our party organisation, my commitment to a Shadow Cabinet-level Minister for Women will ensure there is a strong champion for these voices – both within our party, and to represent women more widely.
4. I believe cultural change must come from the top, as well from the grassroots, which is why I have committed to 50:50 gender representation in the Shadow Cabinet. We have seen the successes of women’s representation in Scotland and Wales since devolution, including a different culture in these legislatures, and we can learn from it across every level of the party. Effective guidance and support for CLP officers would demonstrate a commitment to broadening the base of our party and supporting more grassroots members to come forward and be part of the change that we need.
Looking back at the general election, it is clear that many of the talented, strong women who came forward during Labour’s thirteen years in power did not have enough of a presence in our campaign and I will make certain that this never happens again.
5. I will ensure that there is a full review of the current complaints procedure to ensure it is working swiftly and effectively and, in doing so, send a strong message that all of our members are valued.
I hope that you find my responses helpful. From the struggle for suffrage, to the Sex Discrimination Act, to the minimum wage and women trade unionists battling for equal pay, the Labour party has fought side by side with the women’s movement. I’m proud of that history, but I’m also passionate about the need for greater progress – I will be the Leader who leads for women.