700 inspiring women

There is a real buzz this Labour Party Conference about women in the Party. There’s a great and exciting agenda of women’s events, which kicked off today as over 700 women gathered in Manchester Town Hall for Labour’s Women’s Summit.

You can watch a short video of the event here:

This morning was incredibly inspriring, and shows just why Labour must reinstate Labour Women’s Conference. Dozens of women queued at open mikes to make their views heard, and Yvette and Harriet made rousing speeches. Both the politicians and the delegates showed just how talented Labour women are.

Finally, we were joined by new leader Ed Miliband, who did us proud by making the case loud and clear for positive action for women’s representation in the Party.

The Lead for Women sisters are looking forward to the next Women’s Summit!


Congratulations, Ed

We’ve spend today up in Manchester at the Labour Leadership Conference, waiting to find out who has won the election to be Labour’s new leader.

Back in June, we felt frustrated by the way progress on women’s representation within the Labour Party seemed to have stalled. We had just had a general election campaign in which women politicians were almost invisible, and we nearly had a leadership election with no women candidates.

That’s why we wrote an open letter to all those who put themselves forward for the Leadership, setting out our concerns, and asking them to put in writing their specific commitments on how they would ‘lead for women’. Since then, hundreds and hundreds of women across the country have added their names to our letter, and together we have kept the issue of women’s representation high on the agenda throughout the leadership election.

We’re delighted that every single one of the candidates took the time to read our letter and respond (some of them at length and in considerable detail). And we are delighted that Labour has a new leader today. We want to congratulate Ed on his election, but also to remind him of the promises he made in his letter to Lead for Women.

We hope to work closely with the new leadership to put his promises into practice, and to ensure the Labour Party is a Party which truly does lead for women.

Very excitingly, we heard (from twitter) that we were namechecked today on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour with the marvellous Jenni Murray.

We ‘listened again’ (as you can do here) and heard a great conversation between Jenni and Labour pollster and Lead for Women supporter Deborah Mattinson, and MP Meg Hillier, about what Labour needs to do to lead for women. We were extra pleased to hear Jenni refer to the Lead for Women letter putting pressure on the Labour leadership candidates to tell us how they will change our Party.

This is the blurb from the Woman’s Hour website:

Labour leadership: Who will win for women – Ed, David, Diane, Andy or Ed?

The die is cast on who will become the next leader of the Labour party. The ballot closed at five o’clock on Wednesday with the winner to be revealed at the party’s conference on Saturday. After a general election campaign in which women were near invisible and a leadership election in which just one woman stood, how will the new leader reach out to those who think the party fails to represent them? Jenni is joined by Labour MP Meg Hillier who’s already put her hat in the ring for the shadow cabinet elections and by party pollster Deborah Mattinson.

There is a (short) letter from Lead for Women activists in the Guardian today, on the subject of the PLP vote on gender quotas for the shadow cabinet.

Four of the five Labour leadership candidates promised to support a 50:50 shadow cabinet. So we are disappointed the parliamentary party decided that the shadow cabinet should include only eight women out of 26. We look forward to the support of the new leader in persuading the PLP that we need a shadow cabinet that clearly leads for women.

Rachael Saunders, Helen Symons, Melanie Ward and eight others

There are some good write-ups of Wednesday’s women’s hustings on the blogs.

Rowenna Davies writes in the New Statesman:

There was something rather satisfying at seeing the “young princes and top guns of New Labour” — a description used by Diane Abbott to describe her fellow candidates — being forced to seek approval from a room packed with several hundred women…

…You have to wonder how much lobbying the leaders did to push their 50 per cent preference — perhaps a token vote in the right direction was just a little too convenient. Ed Miliband sounded strongest here, saying we have to rebut the idea that women’s shortlists are an affront to meritocracy. Having so few women at the top cannot be a fair representation of the talent that’s out there.


Over on Left Foot Forward, Claire French says:

In a room packed with women, four men and one woman set out their pitches for being the Labour Party’s champion for women. After an exhausting number of hustings already, last night found the wannabe leaders quizzed exclusively on issues that affect women.


Meanwhile, blogger Delilah writes:

“It’s the famous five of Britain,” said Mary Riddell, columnist and a political interviewer for the Daily Telegraph, and chair of the Fabian Women’s Lead4Women hustings in Westminster this evening…

…As the division bell signalled their departure, all the Fabian Women in the audience smiled for the camera, proudly wearing our Labour Lead4Women sashes.

After all the promises we’ve heard, let’s hope the candidate who wins does that too.

This piece in today’s Guardian offers some analysis of the rounds of voting in yesterday’s ballot on gender balance in the shadow cabinet.

In a series of votes on how to reform the party while it is in opposition, Labour MPs declined to reduce the size of the shadow cabinet to 23 places from the present 26 – larger than that of the government’s cabinet of ministers by three.

The defeat of gender parity was described by shadow work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper as “disappointing”.

Harman had called for a 50:50 split in the early days of her tenure as acting leader but with time softened her position.

Instead, she proposed the initial proportion should reflect that of the parliamentary party at large — 31.5% — but rise to 50% over the course of this parliament.

In the event, MPs opted only for a quota of 31.5% with no possibility of the compulsory ratio increasing with time. MPs had disliked the proposal, saying men would be forced to contemplate vacating their shadow cabinet portfolios to make way for women over a period of time. An alternative vote system was used, and while equal numbers supported the 50:50 option and the 31.5% option, in the second round more MPs opted for the lower quota.

A day of two halves

Today has been a day of two halves. This evening, hundreds of women turned out in central London to a women-only hustings event for the Labour leadership, hosted by the Fabian Women’s Network, in conjunction with the Labour Women’s Network (as well as Lead for Women).

It was an inspiring event – literally standing room only – and the candidates were quizzed on a range of topics, from how they voted on gender quotas for the shadow cabinet earlier in the day, to their experiences of ‘macho culture’ in the Labour Party and how the party should respond to international abuses of women’s human rights, highlighting in particular the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

In response to the first question they were asked, we heard how the candidates voted in the PLP ballot on gender balance in the shadow cabinet earlier today. Ed Balls told us he voted for a 40% quote for women’s representation, to be implemented immediately. Ed and David Miliband, and Diane Abbott told us they voted for the option that would put a 31.5% quota in place now, rising to 50% after the next General Election. Andy Burnham told us he voted for the option that the shadow cabinet gender balance should always reflect the make-up of the PLP – currently 31.5% women.

Disappointingly, as we left the hustings meeting, it became clear that our Parliamentary colleagues had opted for the lowest possible gender balance quota – 31% women. In a shadow cabinet of 22 people, that would mean just 7 would be women. It’s not yet clear how the rounds of voting broke down, but we’ll certainly be analysing the results when they are published.