In defence of All Women Shortlists

5th March, 2012 9:48 am

You can almost set your watch by it. Every few years someone – almost invariably a man – writes an article or blog post attacking Labour’s use of All Women Shortlists (AWS) in selecting candidates.

The latest man to make this case is Ben Cobley over at Labour Uncut.

I feel as a male NEC member I have a responsibility to defend a process which is of no personal benefit to me, but has been of great benefit to the Labour Party in making the PLP more representative, talented and attractive to voters.

The flip side of the repetitiveness of this issue being raised is that I can save time by using literally some of the same words I did last time I wrote about this in 2008.

I thought this debate had been settled in the early ’90s but it looks from the Twitter reaction to Ben’s piece like some colleagues want to reopen it.

I think it might have made their case look better if the people making it were not all men. It always leaves a bit of a whiff of self interest.

There’s a legitimate debate to be had about whether my predecessors on the Labour NEC’s Organisation Sub Committee over-did their interpretation of the rules around which seats should have an All-Women Shortlist (AWS) for their selection in the run-up to 2010.

The debate is slightly academic this time as the need for maximum flexibility to find berths for MPs whose seats disappear in the boundary review means that there will be no AWS applied in notionally Labour-held seats, with proportionately more in target marginals.

If it was a “normal” round of selections without these huge boundary changes, I think that the Party should ensure a national level of 50% AWS in vacant Labour seats and aim for a level of 50% AWS in each individual region where this doesn’t affect the national total. In the run up to 2010 the 50% per region target, because it involves rounding up on small numbers of vacant seats per region (i.e. 1 of 1 or 2 of 3 vacancies must be AWS) meant that the national total was distorted. There was also some micro implementation going on around specific boroughs or counties e.g. there are 3 Labour seats in Anyshire, all of them held by men, so any vacancy in Anyshire must be AWS (even if next
door Upshire and Downshire have plenty of women Labour MPs), which has a distorting effect.

I can’t defend anomalies like my predecessors’ decisions to make all three seats in Sunderland AWS in the same round of selections. There’s no logic to it, or at least none that anyone has been able to convince me of. But it did produce three excellent MPs, so all’s well that ends well.

There also needs to be a debate about how allegations of the political use of AWS to block particular candidates or help others can be put to rest and complete transparency ensured, so that the principle is not undermined.

We also need to work out how to address the contentious issue of whether AWS damages the chances of increasing the number of BME candidates.

And we need to ensure consistency in how we consult affected CLPs about their views on whether they should have an AWS.

But the principle needs to be stuck with until we get a PLP that represents the electorate and is at least 50% women. The only proven way to get there is AWS. In years where we have had AWS selections Labour has managed to get lots of women MPs selected and elected. In years where we haven’t, the numbers have gone backwards. This is something to be ashamed of. We shouldn’t need to force Constituency Labour Parties to pick women candidates but the reality is that left to their own devices, all but the most progressive pick men. Unless you believe women are less capable than men as politicians (which there is no evidence for) the only explanation must be conscious or unconscious discrimination by the format of the selection process itself or by members of what is supposed to be a party of the left.

If this discrimination didn’t exist then there would be no need for AWS, but it does, and we as a Party believe in equality, so we must use the only proven tool for tackling this, AWS.

Whilst AWS was unpopular with voters in one high-profile seat where a disgruntled male candidate made an issue of it, Blaenau Gwent in 2005, the net result of AWS, and the thing that only it is proven to deliver, a line-up of candidates with a lot more women in it, is popular with voters and is a major differentiator between us and the Tories and Lib Dems.

I write this as a man who has personally had all the seats near me that I was interested in contesting in selections in the run-up to 2010 declared AWS so I was unable to go for them. But if you are a male candidate who believes in a more representative House of Commons, and a Labour Party whose candidates reflect the electorate, you have to accept someone has to miss the opportunity to run in order to move towards our goal of gender equality in our parliamentary party.

AWS hasn’t just delivered a more representative PLP, it has delivered a stronger one, with a new generation of talented women MPs like Rachel Reeves, Gloria De Piero, Stella Creasy, Bridget Phillipson and Luciana Berger all selected through AWS.

As my partner Linda sensitively put it when I moaned a bit about one of the AWS decisions that affected me: “Blokes like you have been in the Commons for hundreds of years, women haven’t, get over it!”. A little bit of self-sacrifice in the wider interests of the Party and our principle of equality is never a bad thing.

I’d urge men in the Party who complain about AWS to “get over it!” and support the principle of Labour’s initiatives for getting talented women into the PLP and their local council.

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  • Winston_from_the_Ministry

    “more representative, talented and attractive to voters”

    Why no quotas for other things?

    How does it make it more talented?

    I’d dispute the final point.

    • Mark Allen

      Yes, I agree. When do we start having quotas for a higher proportion of ethnic minorities and people from a working class background to represent our party.

      If we are going to address this issue, let’s address it properly.

  • AlanGiles

    I think the integrity of a candidate is more important than their sex. Male or female I want to see somebody who is personally honest, and is a real Labour candidate not just there to serve themselves.

    Do we want more Hazel Blears, Dawn Butler and that woman in Luton who will soon be appearing in court?

    I certainly don’t anymore than I want another Eliot Morley, Jim Devine or even – bless him – 80 years young Gerald Kauffman –  treating himself to a £2000 TV set at our expense, citing his “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” as the reason. sadly the expenses scandal showed us there wasn’t much to choose between the sexes or the parties.

    Honesty, sincerity a sense of  duty and public service is much more important than his/her sex

    • treborc

      Sadly the Women only short list became a way for New labour to flood the commons with new labour types, we put forward three women all three were rejected and we were told oh look who we found, dozens of people walked away from the local party and it’s finding it hard to to recover. We were to put forward a gent who had been in labour since 1975, not 1985 but sadly to many people joined labour a year before they get elected.

      •  I don’t think it was, really. Look at the 2001-2005 intakes. Most of the men in them were ‘new labour types’. The problem wasn’t AWS, it was that the party were being none too subtle about stacking the deck.

  • Middle-class feminism distracts and divides. Rather than promoting a few middle-class women up the party ranks by fix we should be promoting a grassroots feminism based around the real issues- and watch the effects trickle up, because trickle down liberation is a failure for working class women.

  • The PLP’s position on this would be more tenable if it were consistent, but “anomolies” such as Jack Dromey’s selection undermine any view that this is not simply another political tool, which can alienate voters as much as it draws them in where a national will is seen to override the local view.

    Also, the “so all’s well that ends well” argument doesn’t sit particularly comfortably with me: that is an argument that can hide any number of ills beneath its ‘ends justifying the means’ wings.

    The bottom line is this: the best candidates should represent constituencies, whether they be man, woman or even monkey!

    • AlanGiles

      Couldn’t agree more. And some of the women selected were not truly representative (Barbara Follett comes to mind)

  • Tristan Price-Williams

    Positive discrimination is discrimination.

    If I were a woman I would never stand on an all women list. It would suggest that I could only succeed if the proper opposition were removed.

    I can rarely be said to agree with Ann Widdecombe, but in this matter I’m with her. It’s an insult to women and an affront to democracy at the same time.

    • Slakah

      So you believe democracy is always right? If so then you must also believe that in the 1990s men were so much inherently better than women that only 10% of MPs were women.

    • Vicky Seddon

       As a woman, I can tell you that I am not insulted by it and see it as a necessary measure to change the gender balance in Commons. If you watch it on TV, it is still largely male.  Not good enough.

      • Winston_from_the_Ministry

        Any chance you’re the same Vicky Seddon who is listed as chair of Unlock Democracy?

        http://www.linkedin.com/pub/vicky-seddon/35/6b6/841

        Unlock Democracy who are campaigning for 50/50 gender representation?

        http://www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/pages/counting-women-in

        Could just be a coincidence of course.

      • GuyM

        Why?

        Primary school teachers are predominatly female, should we have male only recruitment drives?

        If the voters keep voting for male MPs who are you or anyone else to tell the they can’t? I’d look at any femals candidate selcedted via all women shortlists and regard her as second rate, unable to get past a free and open selection/election.

        If I walk into my department next week and see I have more women than men working for me, should I be allowed to have all male interviews for the next vacancy? Put all female cv’s straight into the bin? Somehow I suspect you’d be the first to start complaining about that.

        • Duncan

          There have been plenty of initiatives to increase the number of male teachers in primary education.  What’s your point?

          • GuyM

            “Initiatives” do not mean all men interview processes. Female teachers would rightly be up in arms at the prospect.

            Or are you suggesting adverts for teachers including the line “only male applicants will be considered”?

            It is one thing to try to encourage more women to enter politics, another to actively provide them with an easier ride at the expense of those you are happy to discriminate against.

          • What’s going on, Guy – you support the Tories so why bother getting your knickers in a twist over this?

          • Its called trolling

          • Winston_from_the_Ministry

            No Mike, it’s really not. I appreciate you’re an older fella, but you’re going to have to get this termed nailed down.

            Trolling is when you put forward a view you do not genuinely hold in order to elicit an emotional response.

            I do not doubt for one second that Guy is genuine. You can’t just label anything you disagree with as trolling.

          • GuyM

            It’s his usual response.

            AWS is sexist. BME shortlists would be racist.

            Discrimination is discrimination.

            Blocking one sex over another IS sexist.

            Blocking one race over another IS racist.

            But Mike is able to accept racism and sexism if it benefits the right-on PC minorities so beloved by Labour.

            Perhaps if he sticks his fingers in his ears and shouts LALALALALA enough he con convince himself it isnt sexist…

          • Winston_from_the_Ministry

             Mike has his position and I respect that.

            If you look down to his comment you’ll see he does nothing of the sort.

          •  Thanks. I’m actually quite lukewarm in my support as you pointed out.

          •  I think the presence of anyone on this list who doesn’t support the Labour party is trolling – because there is no reason to be here other than to wind up Labour voters and supporters, who this site is meant to be for.

            Personally, I’d moderate far more stringently, but its up to the list owners.

            I don’t actually think open free speech on this sort of forum improves it. There are bear garden sites but this one in my view would work better if kept a Labour site only

          • Winston_from_the_Ministry

            I can sympathise with your point of view Mike. and I certainly agree that posters like Guy, and to a lesser extent myself are perceived as something of a hostile presence.

            But to get internetz technical, if he’s abusing you because he disagrees it’s “flaming”.

            That doesn’t mean it should be tolerated, but I’ve kind of fallen for the discussion here on LL. It’s rich, varied, and even changes my mind occasionally.

          • GuyM

            Sexism is sexism is sexism.

            Harman tried to start positive discrimination in private sector recruitment, so your party view is pertinent as you may return to power.

            If I ever manage a department with many more women than men you will of course support only men being allowed to apply for any vacancy that arises?

          • Yes, the poor set-upon straight middle-class white male. Truly, ours is a hard cross to bear.

            Of course it could be that even in primary teaching the proportion of male heads is vastly greater than the proportion of male teachers, so there might actually be systemic factors at work which need action to deal with them.

          • GuyM

            Ah now you try to personalise it by attacking a group of the population you feel able to do so freely.

            Let’s change a few words and see how it looks.

            What if you’d written:

            “yes, the poor set-upon gay working class black female”..

            I’d imagine that would start a chorus of indignation about racism, sexism, homophobia etc.

            Funny how so many of you on the left feel able to be as racist, sexist etc. as you like so long as targetting white men?

  • Duncan

    We talk here about AWS’s in Council and Parliamentary selections which I don’t have a problem with (as long as the process is transparent), what I do have a problem with is the crazy way we run AWS’s in the delegate structure to Conference. Last year one of my CLPs had a AWS, but try as we might none of our female members wished to attend, that AWS has now rolled over to this year stopping a Male Young Labour member going, he wanted to go last year but we told him he’d have to wait, now this year he is again stopped.

  • “I think it might have made their case look better if the people making it were not all men.”

    I think what I dislike most is the idea that because I’m a man I am somehow less entitled to have  a say on this subject, unless it is ‘right on’.  I am also not convinced by the argument that AWS makes the PLP more talented.  Frankly some of the names you mention are phenomentally over-rated and suffer from a distinct lack of talent – and that’s nothing to do with them being a woman.  I think we have some pretty talentless men too as it happens, which suggests it is too easy for people who are in the right clique to find a seat, and too hard for people of real talent who have fought their battles in the real world to get into Parliament. 

    I think the NEC doesn’t trust CLPs enough as it is.  Suggesting they are naturally discriminatory is slightly insulting.  Perhaps CLPs have not traditionally gone for women because we have not done enough to attract the brightest and the best women into the party.  Someone of real talent always stands out from the crowd regardless of their sex/race etc, so we need to put more effort into finding the countless brilliant women from all walks of life and encourage them to stand – I think when that happens, they will have every bit as much of a chance as men.

    • AlanGiles

      Jonathan – you and me are in danger of becoming friends! I agree with every word you have said there

    • Slakah

      I completely agree especially with the parachute politics which occurs for some people of certain cliques. Now what you propose takes time for these talented individuals to make their way through the woodwork. So I believe AWS should be only used as a temporary measure, because in the interim people need representation on special interest issues of which matter to them. It can also provide aspirational support, seeing intelligent women on TV or in the papers making a difference will hopefully spur on a new generation.

  • Slakah

    I agree with AWS in principle, the best way I believe of changing a discriminatory system such as we have in the UK is by improving representation of those of whom are being discriminated against. I personally don’t believe the principle has been applied widely enough just look at the radar chart  here http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/key_issues/Key%20Issues%20Characteristics%20of%20the%20new%20House%20of%20Commons.pdf 3% went to one school (no need to mention), and 5% did PPE at Oxford 
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11136511  . Then again I suppose the old etonians are so superior to us that they deserve having representation equivalent equal to 244 times greater then the demographics of the UK.

    • GuyM

      Discrimination is never positive but always just plain discrimination.

      Why don’t you do some massive analysis across the UK and try to get 650 people as an exact mini representation?

      Enough left handers?
      Enough disabled (define that for me would you)?
      Enough under 20 and over 80?
      Enough transexuals?
      Enough athiests?
      Enough adoptees?
      Enough people from Cumbria…. and Suffolk…. and Devon.. (by birth or residence?)
      Enough higher rate tax payers and benefit claimants (but what if circumstances change?)
      Enough born in the UK and immigrant (plsit between economic and asylum?)
      Enough christians (split by church?), muslims, hindus, jews, rastas, christian scientists, etc etc

      Just where do you stop I wonder, or perhaps just maybe you put yourself up for election and see if you win?

      The Tories elect old Etonians because their constituencies and then the voters select them. If you don’t like that then tough, as you don’t get to say how many can or can’t stand at any time.

      You are in favour of discrimination, no other way to put it. You would block someone standing for election simply on being born male, that disgust me and is as vile as any oter form of discrimination.

      • Slakah

        I think there’s quite a case of Reductio ad absurdum going on here, I picked on the niche case of the rise of the etonians, and you the idea that wanting greater representation of women in politics also means I want the houses of parliament to be an demographic clone of the UK. I agree discrimination is a great evil, and I think there is a great deal of discrimination goes on well before the ballet box, the membership of the major parties being predominantly male unsurprisingly votes for a male candidate. This candidate is then voted in at elections because most people vote entirely based on party. Now I consider that discrimination, and I think AWS (although not a great solution) alleviates the problem, until candidate selection is reformed in any meaningful way.

        • GuyM

          So given that a far higher percentage of the Labour front bench ni recent years has come from a private school background, you’d agree your party instrinsically is prejudiced and discriminates against state school pupils?

          And as you need AWS your party is basically sexist?

          Not enough ethnic candidates? So Labour is racist as well?

          Then can we move onto disabled, religios preference etc?

          After all if you are going to push one factor that divides us and argue for a form of discrimination, why can’t members of other grouyps argue the same?

          Or is it feminism gets a greater voice from the sisterhood in Labour than other groups?

          Maybe you’ll all grow up one day and just have open selections, no parachuting in of candidates and trust the public to select who they want? Shocking proposal.

  • GuyM

    Democracy… all free to stand; one person one vote; no one person’s views, votes or personal circumstances worth more than anothers

    Labour….. not all are free to stand in every election; multiple votes for some in your leadership election; special pleading groups of feminists, homosexuals and ethnic minorities (who deserve societal protection to ensure equality, not special privileges) who gain extra traction and import out of some sense of faux guilt.

    Labour… not very democratic at all.

  • I think AWS could be justified as a method of kick-starting the process of getting more Labour MP’s. I am less convinced of its necessity at local level, as it often just seems to be used as a way of blocking candidates the powers that be don’t wan to see selected, and I would question whether it should be seen as a permanent solution. After all, the real gap in the PLP appears to be people who don’t come from the privileged degree and research assistant pathway which requires the resources to live and make the contacts in London. It would be interesting to say , for one election, block all lawyers, research assistants to MP’s, and all with a London residency, and see if the candidates chosen were different!

  • I agree absolutely with this. We had a debate on equality, diversity and selection at our last CLP meeting at which there was unanimous agreement that we’d have no objection to an AWS, because none of us were bothered by having a female candidate.

    Yet in my area the only female candidates selected for winnable Westminster or Holyrood seats got their places through an AWS and the local council group remains overwhelmingly male (and if it gets fixed this May, that’ll be through AWS too.) The reason we aren’t selecting as many women is obviously not misogyny, but women are less willing to come forward and there’s plenty of social research suggesting people tend to regard women as less experienced than a man of equivalent stature.

    AWS isn’t perfect, but it seems to be working.

    As for the point about those complaining almost always being male, I think it’s more than that. It’s normally either a) people who complain about everything or b) people with just as much of an apparatchik background, if not more, than most female candidates selected through an AWS. AWS at least stops one gender of dreadful hacks running for some seats, which is an improvement in my books but obviously does upset dreadful hacks.

  • LordElpus

    Jesus wept, not this again!

  • i won’t go into the issue of positive discrimination here but if the party wants a more representative parliamentary party, what is it doing about increasing lgbt (particularly the t) and bme representation? why single out women?

  • Certainly, something needs to be done to address the absence of talent, imagination and direction in the PLP – at the moment they don’t seem to be up to the task of opposition.

    Best to start by making room for a more dynamic intake by jettisoning a significant number of New Labour zomboids.

    And we must ensure that insiders aren’t able to use the short-lists to pack the PLP with more lack-lustre acquiescents.

  • John Reid

    As A party we are on the way up since 2010, But At A local level, I’ve got A feeling we will struggle to find candidates who are prepared to put in the graft to get leelcted to only find out that due to Quota’s Another ‘new comer’ has got A safe seat with this going on, And at that rate then workers won’t put the work in for these seats, Just wait till the NEC has All female BAME shortlists.  note that Kate Osamor is standing for the NEC, I seem to recall her Mother, Martha  (also Ethnic Minority) was Deseelcted in Favour Of Kate Hoey At the Vauxhall By election 23 years ago, and Bernie Grant said Of MArtha’s deselection ‘If black people aren’t Allowed to stand for parliament, they will find Other ways of getting there views across, Shaun Woodward (now A labour M.P) , used this to Imply that Grant was Suggesting Using violence if Black people, weren’t given preferential treatment to become M.P.s .

    • Duncan

      And Shaun Woodward was wrong.

      • John Reid

        Do you think grant didn’t mean this ,after of his history of similar comments, Or do you think when the Tories used this in A party political broadcast in ’92 , and the public who were going to vote laobur and then didn’t resulting in the tories winning A forth term ,didn’t think this either?  

        • Duncan

          His meaning was absolutely clear, and it would be utterly disgraceful to suggest it was any sort of a threat.  (The NEC acted wrongly, in the first instance – I personally think it was symptomatic of the sort of behaviour that ultimately lost us the 1992 General Election by systematically eroding local democracy in the party, but I suppose that’s another matter).  But as for Grant’s argument – he is simply making the point that people who feel they are not represented are more likely to riot, and in doing so he was reflecting on the reality of civil unrest in 1980s Britain.  To try and suggest he was making the point that you suggest in your comment is, quite frankly, staggering.

        • treborc

          John mate he said it to mean a Political view, but if he did mean fight then I would have backed him.

          But the idea of women only slates would have worked ok, if of course labour had not hand picked the people themselves.

          But if you have women only slates, Black only slates and then Asian, disabled, will not be long before it will be the white only slates.

          • John Reid

            I don’t know what consitiuecies you were campaigning in, in ’92 Duncan ,but the ones I campaigned in , in ’92 Laobur lost as the public hadn’t forgotten the far left of the mid 80’s ,If labour lost the 92 election becuase the NEC deselected trotskyite candidates, why did laobur do alot better in ’92 than in ’87, Regarding grant suggesting that if Black were’nt selected to have A voice ,they rioted, why were there riots last year when there is black M.P.s  and who’;s to say that if labour put up Black M.P.s they’d win the seats anyway, paul Boateng lost his seat when he first stood in ’83 and its racist to say that black people want A black candidate and if they did and their choice might not have won for labour anyway, When Skin heads rioted in Glasgow In 2001 and A asylum seeker was murderered, was their rioting justified, as they weren’t represented in parliament

          • Duncan Hall

            No.

          • John Reid

            No what, Duncan. Regarding Jennifers ear, The Tlelgraph revealed thw surname and Address of Jennifer and the Tories said Labour had leaked it, LAobur denied it said the Tories had, and the Tories Issued A legal writ agianst Labour, then William Waldegrave admitted the Tories had leaked it afterall,and LAobur went 7% Ahead, ALot of people who were thinking of Voting Libdem to give the tories abloody nose panicked and went back to voting tory,the sheffield rally was A msitake but it really had very little effect on the election result asn LAoburs lead had all but vanished by then,and the polls were always bias towards labour, We lost that election as People hadn’t forgotten the damage we done to oursleves in the mid 80’s, The left don’t get the blame for everything ,they didn’t get the blame quite rightly for 2010, But millions of people who vote laobur in the 60’s and 70’s went over to the SDP because of what labour stood for in the 80’s, IT was fiar enough if laoubr wanted to stand for that, and it was fiar enoughthose people who couldn’t bring themsleves to vote laobur in the 80’s left, But had the left listened to the right of the party, it would hav eunderstood that the people who voted labour in the 60’s and 70’s didn’t support what labour stood for anymore. regarding american style politics, and Kinnock using PR men, Mcmillan, Wilson and thatcher also did this, No one listeined to John Major on his Soap box,it was the Press with anti kjinnock stories that finished him off.

          • AlanGiles

            John – Neil took on Militant in 1984/5. I don’ believe people held back from Labour because of that in 1992. It is very true that the press were anti-Kinnock (the famous Sun “Will The Last person To Leave the Country?… is as remembered – and as cheap – as the equally infamous “Gotcha”).

            I remember the night of that rally – it was the Wednesday or Thursday before the election a week later, and I honestly felt at that moment NK had gone too far, and blown it. I found it quite embarrassing – but of course – chat show champ Blair came up with far worse in later years.

            Of course in 1994 the party DID listen to the right of the party – and we have Iraq and Afghanistan as a lasting memorial

          • AlanGiles

            John The “far left” get the blame for everything – even when they are not to blame.

            For what it is worth, I honestly believe 2 things lost Labour the 92 election: one was the “glue-ear” story, but – most damaging IMO  was when, doing well as they were, Neil went to the Sheffield rally and gave that “we’re aright!, we’re aright”, we’re aright” introduction.

            Knowing the British love of the underdog as that triumphalism was so removed from John Majors “modest soap box” style (real or contrived) I think people felt sorry for JM and rather embarrassed that NK had resorted to American style politics – even 20 years ago Britain was a very different place from what it had been and what it became after Tony “Mr Showbusiness” Blair

    • We’ve had a problem for years with hard working local candidates of all genders and ethnicities getting queue-jumped by outsiders. I fail to see that this problem will be worse if it happens for reasons of identity rather than because the outside candidate is on first name terms with the Shadow Cabinet.

      And the comment about the NEC requiring female BAME members is paranoid nonsense of the highest order. There isn’t even a quota for regions so they’re not going to go that far down in the weeds.

  • Chilbaldi

    All that AWS do is ensure that women who are already politically active get selected. Currently, female party membership is way down on male party membership, and has been since time immemorial. Perhaps politics hasn’t tickled the fancy of women for a while, perhaps they would rather do better things with their time than sit in an irredeemably dull GC meeting, or perhaps they are put off by the perception that it is a mens’ club. I don’t know, and nobody else does either.

    So we bring in an AWS, and the 10% of women who are Labour members get a leg up. We are automatically drawing from a smaller pool, and excluding the majority of the membership. You don’t need a degree in maths to conclude that this narrows the talent pool and makes it muchless likely, statisically, that the best and most able candidate will be selected. It makes it more likely that this candidate has been excluded before the race has even started given that, statistically, that most aren’t invited to apply.

    It is also blunt, discriminatory, and insulting towards men.

    I have two suggestions for how to get more women involved, neither of which are the highly ineffective AWS:

    1) ensure that all final selection shortlists are 50:50 men/women. This is the most logical and fair step. Unless you genuinely think that most Labour members are sexist.

    2) get more women involved at the grass roots. Restructure how we work as a party from top to bottom in order to cure this.

    AWS epitomise what the public loathe about Labour.

    • Solid suggestions.  +1 Like

      • Chilbaldi

        I would also like to add how disappointed I was at the calls for 50% of the shadow cabinet to be women.

        I’m all for equal representation of men and women. But if I was the Labour leader – or the Chief Exec of a business – I would want the best people to be in my cabinet or on my board. I wouldn’t care if they were men or women.

        So why impose an artificial limit on the sexes in cabinet? What if, say, 70% of the best people you wanted were women, but you were hamstrung by a party rule that said 50% of your cabinet had to be men? Especially when we are talking about people who may potentially be running departments that affect millions of lives, you are entering into the realms of immorality.

        As a side issue, I see no reason why 50% of the shadow cabinet should be women when on 30% of our MPs are. I could almost (note, “almost”) understand if as a result you wanted to ensure that 30% of the shadow cabinet were women. But to have a higher proportion of women in shadow cabinet than there are MPs as an artificial rule? That’s absolute bonkers, and a kick in the balls for hard working and competent male MPs isn’t it?

    • Female membership is lower than male membership, but this is less true amongst those recently joined. Unfortunately, amongst the long-standing membership the male contingent tends to be more active and newer members are not generally terribly active. So it’s a problem that will be resolved if we actually get our members involved.

      Reducing the importance of meetings is one important step (as is making them less about largely irrelevant procedural business and more about policy). We could probably also learn something from the Lib Dems, who’ve historically had a much better member-to-activist ratio that we’ve had.

      However, I disagree that ‘AWS epitomise what the public loathe about Labour’. The public don’t give a toss about AWS, if they’re even aware of it. It’s one of the many issues that is only of interest to political activists, and most of us are fairly bored by it too. Where there has been a backlash, it’s not been the AWS that was the problem, it was the stitch-up.

      • Duncan

        Why would you want to reduce the importance of meetings?  I’m all for other forms of activism and making the most of new technology, etc.  But it’s also quite handy that we meet each other from time to time!

        • Because we can meet each other when we go canvassing, or have a discussion on a political issue, or organise a street stall. All of those actually have some potential to interest people. The only people interested in most CLP meetings are the old guard who’ve been having the same arguments with each other for two decade and young fogeys like me who actually like committees. And even my eyes glaze over sometimes.

          We do need to have meetings and we do need to have oversight of those doing the party’s admin but the long and bad-tempered succession of procedural business that will be ignored by everybody not at the meeting should as much as possible be confined to the one meeting a year when we make NEC supporting nominations.

  • Duncan

    I agree with a lot of what you say, Luke, although I think it is slightly more complex than you suggest.

    Why do fewer women get selected when AWS is not used?  I don’t think it is just gender discrimination (conscious or otherwise) on the part of local parties.

    That is a big part of it, and other aspects relate to the legacy of that: i.e. many potential women candidates anticipate that they will be discriminated against by selection committees, this may put a lot off.  I have been at selection meetings where a better female candidate has been overlooked in preference for a male candidate (who perhaps better fitted a stereotypical idea of what an MP looks like) but then I also have seen less able female candidates selected over better male ones.  A lot of other factors are at play!  Certain elements of background, networking, connections and experience give certain candidates an edge in a selection and, traditionally, these have conspired to favour male candidates.  Occasionally they do precisely the opposite.  Traditional “feeder professions” for MPs are themselves male-dominated.  Look at the thread on the Bradford West by-election.  I know there are prospective candidates who have not ben named on that thread, but even so – we see a lot of male names.  When a male candidate is selected, that will not have been down to sexism on the part of the local party, but it inevitable raises the broader questions.

    I think AWS has been very successful (although it has occasionally been manipulated for internal political reasons that has undermined their support in the party, which is unfortunate) and a number of contributions below are a tad silly.  However, I think there is a broader discussion to be had about changing the culture of the party, and of parliament and parliamentary selection, in ways that would render AWS unnecessary.  We can only really be pleased with ourselves on the subject of gender equality and representation when approximately half of new parliamentary candidates are women, selected through open selections.

    • Duncan

      Incidentally, out of the individuals I mentioned relating to selections I had witnessed, the only one to now be an MP was the less able male candidate (naming no names, of course!)

  • Catherine Smith

    Thank you for writing this blog Luke. Agree with you! If ‘open selections’ were unprejudiced are we saying that men are nine times out of ten better at being MPs?! For whatever reason without AWS there will be less women in parliament and it would quickly slide back to the bad old days of it being a boys club.

  • Vicky Seddon

    Good article!

    • GuyM

      Yes I’m sure you think it is.

      To the rest of the population I suspect most would look it and think another silly group of feminists loose in the Labour party.

      • EmmaBurnell

        Yes, God forbid those uppity silly Feminists should get loose.

        • GuyM

          Horse, stable, door, labour party…….

  • Alanjones

    The AWS serves a single purpose: to get Oxbridge educated, head office-backed women into parliament. 

    I agree that we need a PLP that is 50% women. But a PLP that is 50% Oxbridge educated men, and 50% Oxbridge educated women, will be no better than the current set up.

    If you support AWS, Luke, do you also support all “didn’t go to oxbridge” shortlists? How about all “didn’t go to university” shortlists? Oh, and probably the most important of all, all “have had a proper job (not working for an MP or a think thank)  and are in no way related to a member of parliament” shortlists. If not, why not?

    Luke, you and your NEC colleagues should be focussing on creating a PLP that is truly representative of the population at large. This means that only 7% of MPs should have a private/selective education, only 50% of MPs should have been to university, of which only 5% should have been to Oxford. 

    Until we put working class people back in parliament the labour party is going to carry on its march toward irrelevance. 

  • GuyM

    This whole thing typifies what has gone wrong with Labour over the years.

    You are far more interested in quotas and “balance” than you are in good quality candidates (I say that in no way defending the Tories).

    For years you have churned out spads, researchs, think tank bods and the like over anyone with real life experience beyond politics and you think the problem with UK politics is not enough women?

    Loony toon feminism on the march again.

  • Duncan Hall

    Can I just point out that this Duncan was not me Duncan.  Perhaps we need to start using surnames!!

  • “We also need to work out how to address the contentious issue of whether
    AWS damages the chances of increasing the number of BME candidates.”

    In the rounds of selections before 1997 and 2005 GEs, I think no AWS has produced a BME woman. However, things have improved in the run up of 2010 with Newcastle Central, Walsall South and Birmingham Ladywood selections. Maybe this barrier has been broken.

    On another technical point, I think the NEC must really be clearer on how they decide which constituency will be AWS and which open. The Sunderland case has already been mentioned. I know of a CLP which asked for an AWS….and it was given an open contest.
    I know decisions are sometimes complicated by seats becoming vacant at different times during the parliamentary term (so, for ex, 2 seats next door…AWS is imposed in the first vacancy against the will of local party…then neighbouring seat becomes vacant, the CLP would accept an AWS but it can’t be given because there have already been too many AWS in the region).

    On a side note, I have always wondered what is the male-female ratio in the parliamentary approved candidates list.

  • It’ll be stitch-up. If there was any chance of change the London elite wouldn’t be proposing it.

  • Uest

    Lab should not have AWS. Frankly the list you have given is relatively talentless. AWS get women already in further on. Not good representation. Along the AWS logic we should say 50% of seats should be in the hands of those not with degrees; will that happen? No.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    I will not comment on the wisdom or otherwise of All Women Shortlists, as it is an internal matter for the Labour Party and I am not a member of the Party.  I would however like to make 2 unrelated points:

    A number of studies in the US of the impact of positive discrimination policies in the 1960s / 70s (related to race in their case, but the principles apply also to positive discrimination on gender) have discovered that in some cases, the overall effect has been to raise up the middle class black Americans’ life chances, and to further depress those of poor black Americans.  If you transpose that to gender, there is certainly a real “risk” that if implemented poorly, Labour will end up with a number of women MPs which on the surface demonstrates a real move to equality, but which when looked at more closely in fact shows an increasing concentration of advantaged and connected women who apart from gender are indistinguishable from the sort of middle class SPAD “never had a proper job” policy wonk that in other posts on LL are regularly decried.  I would urge everyone to read the Fawcett Society’s academic research on what turns women (of all parties, not just Labour) OFF from seeking elected office.  http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/ .  A policy of AWS should be accompanied by a wider analysis of potential side-effects, as is common in medicine.

    2.  The Labour Government had to change the law in order to allow AWS after an initial and successful legal challenge.  The act that allows AWS also has a “sunset clause” that makes AWS – currently legal – illegal in late 2015.  Either Labour win in 2015 (which I believe to be doubtful, but that is a separate topic), or persuades a cross-party consensus to extend the sunset clause, or the next election in 2015 is the last in which AWS are allowed.

  • Winston_from_the_Ministry

     Damn straight.

    Who can represent you except someone who shares some arbitrary characteristic?

    Who cares what they’re like inside, it’s what’s outside that counts, how they look, where they come from, where they went to school, who they like to f**k.

    That’s what matters. That’s how candidates should be selected.

  • Hi Luke, since you’ve written this in response to my article, I think it’d be good for me to make a few comments in return.

    You make quite a few decent points, and also some interesting observations about where this policy of AWS is going. Myself I agree we want a greater proportion of women in Parliament, and even that AWS has, albeit crudely and grindingly, had some benefits in correcting the gender imbalance. I only see it as at best a very short-term fix though. The real problem here is our political system with its safe seat syndrome that mitigates against change generally – not just in terms of gender. Trying to fix the gender imbalance is a small part of a much greater whole, and if we applied the same principles as AWS to the whole we would be in a real, ahem, hole.

    Anyway, to move swiftly on, this would no doubt not go down well with a certain other demographic, but I favour mandatory re-selections every couple of Parliaments, and the more community involvement in selections generally the better. You admit to lack of confidence in CLPs – not nice but undoubtedly fair in many cases. But surely AWS is no solution to that? What we need is to get more people involved (the emphasis there on people, not preferred types of people), and this means having the guts to give them some power.

    [Was that some tumbleweed going past? I do believe it was. Labour’s hierarchy really seems to get the fear when it comes to actually giving people power….]

    There is one aspect of your article I really want to take issue with though. This is expressed in your first three sentences, in which you invoke gender as a tool of argument three times.

    What you say here is analogous to saying, “As a man, I think Liverpool have the greatest team ever in history.” You would be wrong, but you would not be wrong because you are a man – your gender has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    Likewise my gender surely has no relevance to my argument. If my argument is wrong, then attack it for being wrong. Also, you invoke being male yourself as a reason for why you are right to support AWS (again, right up top, as if it was the most important thing). What does this have to do with anything?

    What is worse though is your bizarre inference that us menfolk shouldn’t be allowed to discuss this issue publicly, even once every few years. As someone who put you No.1 on my NEC voting form and urged others to support you given what I thought was a generally quite sensible approach to life and politics, I am not desperately pleased by your contempt for the basics of free speech.

    It is one of those revealing instances that comes out of delicate debates like these, that there remains a powerful body of thought on the Left and in Labour that sees its mission as being to exercise control over the individual’s speech and thought in the interests of a greater good. It is particularly unattractive and unwelcome.

    P.S. Opposition to affirmative action is by no means a purely white, male preserve…

  • Daniel Speight

    AWS or any centrally imposed shortlist or long list is an attack on the local component of party democracy. The excuse given to attack the CLPs is “the smoke filled rooms where underhand deals are made.” This may well be true and also obviously safe seats being sat in by very mediocre MPs cannot be a good thing.

    But why not try to fix the local component rather than pull all decision making back to the centre. Set the rules for local party organizations on length of time an individual is allowed to hold a position. Allow local parties to reselect MPs and demand their presence and CLP meetings when it doesn’t clash with parliamentary duties. Stop this parachuting in of leadership favourites.

    What we have now is the cloning of the SPAD, NGO or middle-class professionals into the PLP. With the AWS, not  a bad thing in itself, we see more female MPs being created in the image of Harman and her peers while the majority of the citizens are still so under-represented in the PLP.

  • Redshift

    I have a few points on this:-

    1) People outright opposed to AWS are being silly. There is a clear and obvious disparity that needs to be addressed and AWS has proved an effective method. 

    2) As Luke hints at, there are some genuine cases of insensitive application of AWS, that can discredit the system as a whole. Clearly, if a large town or city has multiple MPs, there should be a mix of AWS and Open selections – otherwise you could essentially be disenfranchising many candidates who would only ever stand in their local town/city. This comes down to management by the NEC more than anything else.

    3) One criticism that hasn’t been addressed by the party is having more working class candidates. Obviously, there is the difficulty of defining this. However, I think an easy solution would be to have All-local shortlists for some constituencies, which would prevent some of the generally very well off seat-seekers from having as great an advantage over less well off candidates. 

    • I don’t really think your view reflects the consensus here.  Far from being “silly”, the views of those opposed to AWS are backed up by the legal interpretation of sexual equality legislation, for which a (temporary) loophole has been created.  You consider the disenfranchising impact of AWS in “a large town or city… [with] multiple MPs”, but do not appear to consider it in the significantly more likely situation whereby a town or city is part of a wider constituency, meaning you are disenfranchising the whole region if you apply AWS.

      Meanwhile there have been a couple of positive suggestions: 50:50 final selections; address the issues at grass roots level first rather than apply this “band-aid” fix.  I like your “all-local” shortlists, though suspect that wouldn’t play well with the PLP.

      It is clear that there is, at best, very mixed support for AWS: I suggest there are better solutions available.

  • furthermore, if labour is really interested in more women getting elected (and not just labour women), why doesn’t it support proportional representation which has been shown to improve repreentation of other groups?

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