This is what separates Labour from the rest in Europe – and what makes me so proud

March 9, 2009 3:12 pm

By Glenis WillmottAnne Fairweather

From my perspective as Labour’s third woman Leader in the European Parliament, following in the footsteps of the legendary Barbara Castle, International Women’s Day should be about looking back on what Britain’s membership of the European Union has achieved for women, and looking forward to the real choices facing women voters in June’s European elections.

Equal pay for women workers was enshrined in the founding Treaty of the European Community, way back in 1957. The British Conservative government at the time wasn’t willing to sign up to the Treaty and certainly wasn’t willing to introduce a statutory requirement for equal pay. It took over 13 years and a Labour government for that to happen in Britain.

Since then the European Union, propelled by successive Labour governments and MEPs, has been at the cutting edge of progressive policies which have greatly benefitted women workers in all walks of life. Our proud record includes achievements such as equal rights for part time workers (over half of women workers are part time), an entitlement to maternity rights from day one (instead of the two years it used to be) and the right to return to work with no loss of pay or status after pregnancy.

More recently the highly successful EU ‘Daphne’ programmes have funded action to combat all types of violence against women in Europe including violence in the family, violence in schools and other establishments, violence at work, commercial sexual exploitation, genital mutilation, trafficking and so on. The current programme, championed by Labour MEPs, runs until 2013 and has a budget of €116 million.

But that is the past. What about now?

Well, we are less than 3 months away from what will be important European elections on June 4. The choice for women’s rights and women-friendly policies is a clear one. Many people say it doesn’t matter who you vote for in the European Parliament. I say this is wrong. The dividing lines are clear and the choice is one between progressive women-friendly policies and the old male-dominated misogynistic Tories.

David Cameron’s Conservatives may be working overtime to present a caring and compassionate façade nationally, but scratch beneath the surface and what you find are the same old male-orientated attitudes. This applies nowhere more so than in the European Parliament. Out of the 27 Tory MEPs just one is a woman, and even she is stepping down at the June election, fed up with her 26 male colleagues. She protests that for too long the Tory European right has been allowed to fester in the European Parliament.

This did not surprise me one iota. Looking at the Tory voting record in the European Parliament, they have consistently followed their Neanderthal instincts. They refused to give their support to a report on combating violence against women. The report called for a zero-tolerance policy as regards all forms of violence against women, including within marriage. They failed to vote to make rape within marriage a criminal offence or to end so-called ‘crimes of honour’ or female genital mutilation. Tory MEPs also voted against a key report that would combat any form of discrimination in the provision of goods and services, including on the grounds of gender. They are not just an embarrassment to Caroline Jackson, they are embarrassment to David Cameron and an embarrassment to Britain.

I am proud of the fact that I lead a Labour Party in the European Parliament made up of over 40% women, all of whom work tirelessly and are a credit to Labour values and our country as a whole. We will continue to push for women-friendly policies in Europe, from the protection of women in the workplace, the continued fight for equality in all walks of life, to the defence in the developing world of what we in Europe now take for granted as the most fundamental of rights.

This is what separates us from the rest. It is why, just like we need progressive Labour representation in our local councils and in national government, we need to ensure we return Labour MEPs to fight for what we believe in and uphold our values in Europe.

Whatever your views on the European Union, it is an important forum where key decisions affecting our everyday life are made and we cannot afford to have those decisions dominated by the unreformed Tory right or the extremist rabble of UKIP, the BNP and their ilk.

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Comment Scotland Here’s our opportunity: the policies people want are real Labour policies

    Here’s our opportunity: the policies people want are real Labour policies

    There are a couple of very basic facts that underpin Scottish politics at the moment. Simply put, people are fed up and they’re angry. They’re fed up of business as usual in politics and of a system that means they work hard for very little while those who already have the most get more. They’re angry with a political establishment that’s seen as out of touch and just not listening as people on the ground struggle. The question we have […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Carswell, Farage and Reckless – stock brokers and merchant bankers, not champions of the working class

    Carswell, Farage and Reckless – stock brokers and merchant bankers, not champions of the working class

    We knew Mark Reckless had a brass neck. You’d have to have one to show your face again after you fell over blind drunk in the Commons on practically your first week in the job. Which, by the way, doesn’t bode well for him when it comes to keeping up with Nige in the pub after work. But I didn’t think even the Rochester rebel would have the nerve to claim the Chartists (and the Levellers, and the Suffragettes) for […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Gordon Brown outlines proposals for a stronger Scottish Parliament

    Gordon Brown outlines proposals for a stronger Scottish Parliament

    Today Gordon Brown will give a speech to the 17th State Of The City Economy Conference in Glasgow where he will propose his plans for a stronger Scottish Parliament Brown, who was widely heralded as one of the strongest voices in the Scottish referendum campaign, will say that this plans will not just mimic the SNP’s one-dimensional focus on constitutional change but will unite the people of Scotland. He will propose using 17 new powers to the Scottish Parliament, which […]

    Read more →
  • News LabourList readers predict hung parliament

    LabourList readers predict hung parliament

    As the general election is just around the corner, the attention we pay to opinion polls is at it’s peak. And with the latest polls showing that there’s not much between the two biggest parties – the Tories and Labour – we wanted to know what LabourList reader through the election result will be in May. The news isn’t so great. As is reflected in the polls, most (46%) don’t think either the Labour Party or the Tories will win […]

    Read more →
  • News MPs with links to private health shouldn’t vote on today’s NHS bill, Labour demand

    MPs with links to private health shouldn’t vote on today’s NHS bill, Labour demand

    MPs who could potentially make a financial gain from NHS privatisation should not vote on the bill Clive Efford is putting to Parliament today, according to Labour. Research released earlier this week found that 70 MPs have links to private healthcare firms – including David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Today’s Private Member’s Bill aims to halt privatisation in the health service by repealing sections of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 that enforce competition in […]

    Read more →