Let’s be clear – Labour has done really well on issues of Gender Equality. When you look at the Labour benches in the commons the difference is stark between our mixed benches and the swathes of men in grey suits on the government benches. We have taken and continue to take difficult action to ensure that our party is becoming more and more representative and as I have written before, I think this is not only morally the right thing to do, but is also politically beneficial. I am extremely proud of the work done within the party in this area and the obvious difference between us and the Tories and especially the Lib Dems shows how well these measures are working and how needed they are.
However, I was somewhat disappointed that the organisations who come to our conferences to talk to us have not recognised these as part of our intrinsic values. Too often at this year’s conference we were faced with all male panels again and again. It’s insulting to our values as a party and to myself as a woman to be presented with 4-5 experts over and over again only to be implicitly told that there are no women good enough. I also know as someone who organised panels at conference that it’s just lazy. I always ensured that at the very least there was a female chair, but I also always strived to ensure there was at least an advertised female speaker (anyone who organises events at conference will tell you of the endless horror of speakers pulling out at the last minute, a practice that is not gender-biased).
Some friends and I started to talk about this and what we though was the best course of action. We don’t want to stop reasonable people holding meetings on the conference fringe. Proper discussion of ideas is what being a democratic Socialist is all about. However those ideas would be better discussed and represented if a wider range of voices were heard. So in true ConDem nudge theory style, it struck us that we would never seek to ban such meetings, but one way to persuade the organisers to think more carefully about their platforms would be to impose rules on the advertising of these events in the official Labour Party fringe guide. The idea is inspired by the rule the Liberal Democrats have where they won’t accept any adverts for meetings in venues that aren’t fully accessible.
As a result, we have drafted the letter below to Margaret Wheeler – chair of the Conference Arrangements Committee:
Advertising of fringe events with no female speakers in the Labour Party conference guide
Over the past few years the Labour party has made massive strides towards gender equality – not least with the make-up of the Shadow Cabinet, making our party being far and away the most diverse in Parliament.
We are however concerned that these values are not always reflected in some of the fringe events, organized by third parties, at Annual Conference. Too often we have attended events where the line-up is all male, with no thought having been given to presenting a representative platform – despite the number of vocal and interesting women in the party.
We understand that the freedom to assemble (in whatever form people choose) is a fundamental human right, and we would not seek to ban such meetings. However we do not believe that there is an equal fundamental right to advertising. We also believe that the Party can and should seek to encourage organizations to reflect Labour’s values more closely when they choose to host events at our conference and as such would like to propose that the Labour Party adopts a rule whereby no event can be advertised in our fringe guide if there is not at least one woman represented on the panel of advertised speakers (accepting that last minute changes occur). We believe there is precedent for this in the rule by the Liberal Democrats that no fringe can be advertised in their guide if it is does not have full disabled access.
We believe that provided sufficient notice was given to potential event organizers, adopting such a rule would not result in the loss of advertising revenue to the Party, but would instead awaken organisations to the causal and lazy sexism of presenting all-male platforms, and will make them more innovative in their invitations – thus improving the fringe overall.”
If anyone would like to be a co-signatory of this letter, please get in touch with me, or give me your name and CLP etc in the comments. I will be sendingthe letter in early January as I know such a move would take time to implement and want to give the party as much time as possible to make this work.
I hope that this move will be accepted by the party as the positive step it is intended to be and that we can all work together to make our annual conference as interesting and diverse an event as possible.