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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.

Today, dozens of women Labour Party members converged on Leeds Met university in Leeds, for a great Women’s training and discussion day.

Not only did we spend time talking about how we tear down the barriers that stop women getting and staying involved in politics, we also had the chance for small groups of us to quiz each of the candidates for the leadership in turn – none of them had the chance to duck the difficult questions!

But the high-point of the day has to have been the Lead for Women photo opp on the steps outside the venue. Fifty Labour women wearing Lead for Women sashes, representing our call for 50:50 gender balance at every level of the Labour Party – from branch meetings to the shadow cabinet table.

Now we have received responses to our letter from all of the candidates to be Labour leader, we have published the following statement in response:

Labour Leader candidates divided over ‘invisible women’ campaign

All five candidates to be Labour Party leader have now responded to a call to action from grassroots women members to ensure Labour is the Party that leads for women. Their responses expose significant differences about how far they would go to make Labour more representative.

At a Labour Party members’ event this weekend in Leeds, all five candidates will be quizzed by women members on how they will ensure women are never again ‘invisible’ in the Labour Party.

All the candidates have now publicly set out their plans for opening up Labour’s structures to women, after a group of over 200 women in the Party wrote to the candidates. They called on them to outline in detail their plans to tear down the barriers that put off many women from being involved in the Party, and ensure that women are equally and meaningfully represented at all levels, and are never again ‘invisible’ as media spokespeople or internal decision makers.

Rachael Saunders, former Labour Party National Women’s Officer and Lead for Women activist, said:

“We’re proud of Labour’s record on equality, and on getting more women into Parliament, but we still haven’t done enough.

“We were dismayed by the low profile of our talented women politicians at the General Election, and concerned that there are still far too many barriers stopping women getting involved – whether in national politics or in their local Party. We must stop wasting the talent of women who get put off or put down in public life.

“We celebrate the commitment of every candidate to achieving change, and we welcome a real debate about how to tear down the barriers and set us on a clear path to equality – but those debates have to be followed by meaningful action.

“One of the clearest signs that we as a Party are serious about change would be a 50:50 gender balance in the Shadow Cabinet, and tough action to ensure equal representation of women and men in our Parliamentary Party. If we can’t change the faces at the top table, then we’ll never achieve the true culture change that is needed for us to win again.”

At Labour’s women’s day in Leeds on Sunday, the candidates will be challenged by women members of the Party on their plans. They will be quizzed on their commitment to women’s representation in the Shadow Cabinet and asked to take responsibilility for changing the culture in the Labour Party and in politics that means many women are put off politics before they even contemplate standing for election.

After the leadership election, Lead for Women will continue to hold the new leader to account on their promises – whoever they are.

As of today, we are really pleased to announce that each and every one of the 5 candidates has taken the time to read and respond to our letter asking how they will ‘lead for women’ as Labour leader.

When we first launched our open letter, just over a month ago, we didn’t think for a moment we’d have so many Labour women keen to add their support. Whoever goes on to win Labour’s leadership election, together we have made sure that women’s representation is high on the agenda for all the candidates.

In his reply, Andy Burnham says:

I believe we should do more to support women entering politics, whether at local or national level, not just to get them there, but to keep them there. We need to work with our colleagues in the wider Labour movement to provide women with the proper support and training so that we can make a proper investment in the next generation of Labour women.

We’re really excited to have a letter published in the Guardian today, supporting the Lead for Women letter to the Labour leadership candidates, and calling for radical action to transform our Party.

The Guardian letter is signed by women from right across the Party, including NEC members, MPs and grassroots activists.

Labour must lead on women’s issues

The Guardian, Friday 16 July 2010

We support Harriet Harman’s call for 50:50 gender balance in Labour’s shadow cabinet. We are proud of the Labour party’s record in tackling inequality between women and men and in supporting families. But these achievements were too low on the agenda at the last election. Today, we are issuing a clear challenge to all the Labour leadership candidates. It is time to commit ourselves to taking radical steps to transform the party to become more representative and to win women’s votes, or face a long future in opposition.

Labour is unrepresentative from the grassroots to the top of the party. Just one Labour MP in three is a women. Our women politicians were relegated to the sidelines during the election campaign. Yet we know that women want to see more “people like me” in politics. Labour failed to reach out to female voters. Despite our progress on gender equality when in government, during the campaign we failed to show that we understand the reality of women’s lives. As a result Labour lost support from women across all age groups.

Almost 200 women have now signed the Lead for Women letter and together we are calling on all the leadership candidates to set out their own plan of action for Labour Party renewal, ensuring: equal numbers of women and men in the shadow cabinet; equal and meaningful women’s representation across the whole shadow government, and across the party as a whole; issues that affect women and priorities for women voters will be Labour’s priorities too.

Olivia Bailey

Hannah Blythyn

Katie Curtis

Cllr Helen Gibson

Edwina Hart AM

Diana Holland

Oona King

Fiona Mactaggart MP

Angela Mason

Deborah Mattinson

Dame Julie Mellor

Susan Nash

Ellie Reeves

Claire Reynolds

Dame Jane Roberts

Cllr Rachael Saunders

Cllr Rohini Simbodyal

Nan Sloane

Cath Speight

Norma Stephenson

Helen Symons

Kitty Ussher

Melanie Ward

Harriet Yeo

We’ve now heard from four of the candidates for the Labour leadership about how they will ‘lead for women’.

In her reply to our letter, Diane Abbott says:

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.

Three out of the five candidates for the Labour leadership have now replied to the Lead for Women letter.

In his reply, Ed Balls says:

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.