A woman’s place is not only in the House

November 26, 2012 11:45 am

In Manchester, with the Manchester Central by-election and Police and Crime Commissioner elections out of the way, we now have no elections expected until 2014. This doesn’t mean we’re taking it easy – I know members have been out on the doorstep locally over the weekend, as well as helping out in advance of this week’s by-elections, and we’re sending a minibus to Rotherham on Thursday. Nevertheless, it does give us a bit of a pause to reflect on our next steps – and when you’re in an area with as many talented and experienced party activists as Manchester, those next steps tend to include a selection process or several.

I should hastily add, before you all sit up at your keyboards, that I have no gossip, at all – this absolutely isn’t that kind of column. I’m just aware that between the rash of recent elections and the next ones coming over the horizon, and the smell of selections is in the air, and it’s got me thinking.

The other weekend, some of you may remember, I had the privilege of ‘covering’ Labour Women’s Network’s Political Day event for LabourList. (I say ‘covering’ like I’m Laurie Penny or something: all I had to do was sit there eating a falafel wrap and pressing ‘retweet’.) It was a fascinating and incredibly valuable day, and the first event of its kind. However, many Labour women will be familiar with LWN’s more regular selection training events.

And this event didn’t disappoint – after a full day of panel discussions on everything from Obama to Page 3, the final session was indeed about advice on selections and elections, from those who had been through one or both. It was…exhausting, frankly. I can put some of that down to it being the end of a very long day, and some down to the fact that the overwhelmingly energetic Suzy Stride was on the panel, but there’s no getting around the fact that the detail and depth of advice all the speakers gave was terrifying, demanding and very, very good.

One problem, however – and this isn’t at all a criticism of LWN, who do a fantastic job of widening access to Parliament and of supporting Labour women to do things they never thought they had in them, and have done for years – why are we so focused on getting people into Parliament?

It’s not only Westminster selections occupying the thoughts of Labour’s rising stars. The next time Manchester people go to the polls (touch wood) will be for the European elections in 2014. In the North West we have one excellent Labour woman MEP already in Arlene McCarthy, hopefully to be joined by Theresa Griffin, who was an excellent candidate in 1999, 2004 and 2009: but where are all the women putting themselves forward as new candidates? Where were all the women in the PCC elections? (Here’s another interesting fact I picked up at the LWN event: six out of the forty-two newly-elected police and crime commissioners are women. Six!) Where are the women elected mayors and the women council leaders? There are women in these positions, of course – great ones – but the level of representation is dismal. And yet as a party all of our focus, all of our agonising about the need for women candidates and BME candidates and local candidates and whether and how these lofty ambitions conflict – and, most importantly, all of our training and support – seems to fetishise Westminster.

We have active members and supporters – women and men – who are never going to see Parliament as a place for them (and there’s no shame in that: I’m reminded of the Nye Bevan quote Paul Richards repeated on LabourList as advice for the 2010 intake of MPs); but as Nick Cohen noted yesterday in the Observer, some of the best work Labour can do while we’re in opposition has to happen outside the House of Commons. Let’s work towards making Labour representative and accessible in all the places power resides. After all, a woman’s place is not only in the House.

  • http://twitter.com/PeterKenyon Peter Kenyon

    City of London Labour Party is delighted with the response to appeals for possible candidates for next year’s Common Council elections launched over the weekend through the Labour and Fabians Women’s Networks.

    We are looking for:

    “….candidates that care passionately about the City as an ethical world financial centre, as well as a good local authority promoting best practice in the delivery of public services.”

Latest

  • News Scotland Murphy makes unity candidate pitch as Unite prepare to endorse Findlay

    Murphy makes unity candidate pitch as Unite prepare to endorse Findlay

    There are two interviews with Scottish Labour leader candidates in this morning’s papers. Jim Murphy launches his campaign by talking to the Daily Record (the same paper Johann Lamont did her resignation interview with last week), while Neil Findlay has a short conversation with the Morning Star. Murphy builds on the statement he made last night (“I’m applying for the job of First Minister”) by claiming he wants “to bring the country back together after the referendum.” He said: “I […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Brand or bland? Are these really my choices?

    Brand or bland? Are these really my choices?

    Russell Brand has a book out and a great publicist. His diagnosis of our current malaise is pretty spot on. His solutions however are woolly headed at best and inconsistent at worst. But Russell Brand is being taken seriously. He’s never off Newsnight nor out of the pages of the Guardian. People are flocking to follow him in their thousands. He is Che Guevara for the scripted reality generation. The established left simply don’t know what to make of this. […]

    Read more →
  • Comment If politicians can’t enact the policies people actually want, the system is broken

    If politicians can’t enact the policies people actually want, the system is broken

    This week, Class released a new poll on the theme of fairness and inequality, which will nicely coincide with the debates at our conference this Saturday. Speaking of which, you should totally book a ticket for that as we’re down to the last few. Anyway, I find our polling particularly interesting (I mean, you’d hope I would) because its aim is to gauge public opinion on long-term issues, rather than responding to a given news story. Class polls provide a […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Scotland “I’m standing for First Minister of Scotland and I intend to win”: Jim Murphy joins Scottish Labour leadership race

    “I’m standing for First Minister of Scotland and I intend to win”: Jim Murphy joins Scottish Labour leadership race

    We now have three candidates for Scottish Labour leader, as Jim Murphy’s long-awaited candidacy has been confirmed. The Shadow International Development Secretary and former Scotland Secretary released a statement this evening, saying that his intention is to be Scottish Labour leader and First Minister: “I’m standing for First Minister of Scotland and I intend to win. I want to bring Scotland back together after the referendum. There is so much to be proud of in Scotland but so much we […]

    Read more →
  • Comment I’m not upset about Cameron’s refusal to wear a t-shirt – it’s everything else that gets me

    I’m not upset about Cameron’s refusal to wear a t-shirt – it’s everything else that gets me

    On Monday the news broke that David Cameron has repeatedly refused a request by Elle magazine to be photographed wearing a t-shirt. Why? Because on it, the t-shirt says “This is what a feminist looks like”. There have been a catalogue of ideas floated since about why he might not have done it – “It’s only a mag campaign” or “You shouldn’t dress up the Prime Minister”, say. But really, it’s not important that it was a request from a […]

    Read more →