We must protect the integrity of All Women Shortlists

February 14, 2013 7:48 am

I am a real supporter of All Women Shortlists because it has been shown that with our current male-dominated politics they are what  ensures better female representation in Parliament. It’s also good politics as our 26% lead among women voters shows. By getting more women into prominent roles and bringing their perspective to our Party in Parliament we have changed what our priorities are and how we promote them and female voters are responding.

As a real supporter of All Women Shortlists, I am occasionally called on to defend them from their detractors. I have no problem with doing so. Those of you who have been kind enough to read my writing here and elsewhere regularly will know that I have no problem with telling people when I think they’re wrong and exactly why they’re wrong.

But I’d like the Party to help me. One of the most frequent accusations levelled against AWS is that they are somehow a “stitch up”. Usually this comes from disgruntled male candidates convinced that they are being overlooked. But sometimes it comes from CLPs who feel that they don’t understand why they have been chosen. Today, several of the decisions will be made by the Organisational Sub Committee of the NEC which will then be sent to the full NEC for ratification.

As I understand it, the regional offices have been conducting  a consultation across their CLPs and will be putting forward recommendations to Org Sub. Each region will be looking at a huge variety of factors. They will need to ensure balance across their region, while taking into account the history and demographics of the individual constituencies. CLPs wishes will also be factored in. It is a difficult balancing act and many of our regions are understaffed and have been working flat out on the near constant stream of by-elections we’ve faced since the General Election.

At each step in the process – from the recommendations given to Org Sub to the decisions taken by that group and by the full NEC – there will be reasons discussed and a rationale behind each decision.

The Labour Party is continuing to refound itself and continues to open up its processes so members can understand and feel more engaged and empowered. This transparency is essential to giving us all confidence in the processes that take place to decide some of the most important things we do – selecting those who will make our laws and fight our cause in Parliament. All too often, members have had cause to complain because of a lack of transparency.

I don’t want to see All Women Shortlists become a victim of this lack of transparency. I don’t want to see any excuses handed to those who oppose them. They’re too important to be either used as a tool to favour certain individual candidates or to become unwittingly tangled in a process that allows it to look like that has taken place simply by a lack of clear, consistent information around the process.

CLP officers should be informed by their regional directors when their seats have been allocated as an All Woman Shortlisting seat as soon as possible, but the rationale behind that decision making must also be available to them. There needs to be a clear and consistent communication loop between the Constitution Unit and regional offices so that those who will be in direct contact with CLPs will be able to not just inform them of the decision but of why the decision has been taken.

The decisions are complex and are not made based on one factor or criteria, but if each CLP has access to the rationale behind that decision – some of which may be hard to hear (for example, it may be that it was felt that the CLP had a poor history of championing women) they can at least be confident they are not having an individual foisted upon them,  but will – when the time comes – have a wide range of candidates to choose from – whether they are from a single gender or otherwise.

All Women Shortlist are great. Eventually I hope they will be obsolete. But in the meantime, for those of us who champion them, transparency around the process is essential to protecting the integrity of that for which we fight.

  • AlanGiles

    Sorry. In my opinion the sex of a candidate is not important. What is important is empathy with would-be constituents, knowledge, honesty and personal integrity. Especially honesty and integrity. What would be best for any party an honest man or Margaret Moran?. Just a thought.

    • Redshift1

      Well this skirts the question in a way. Most of the party accept the need for some all-women shortlists in some seats because of the very compelling representation issue. As Emma describes, there are also electoral benefits of being a better balanced party too.

      However, where the process falls down a little is that nearly every CLP, unless most of the key activists already have their minds set on a particular woman, don’t want it for their particular CLP. They understandably want ‘the best’ candidate and particularly in marginals, that’s a convincing argument.

      So in short, there is a big problem with implementation in a way. A natural tension. Throw in some poor decision making and even just a couple of stitch-ups from interests on the NEC and it discredits the whole process.

      I personally don’t think the answer is to abandon all-women shortlists, although I do think the emphasis has been too heavily on that and not on promoting working class candidates. I think all-local shortlists would be the way forward in that regard. Prevent the well-heeled seat-seekers from dominating selections in places they have no connection to.

    • http://twitter.com/Scarletstand Emma Burnell

      With respect, that becuase you will never know how demoralising it is to be outnumbered in every room you enter in your chosen career field. You will never know how disheartening it is that none of the other participants in that room even notice that someing is wrong.
      Until we normalise the political experience – which includes making it look as gender balanced as the world it represents – then women will continue to feel like they don’t really belong in the boys club.

      • Hugh

        Would all-male shortlists be acceptable in fields dominated by women?

        • http://twitter.com/Scarletstand Emma Burnell

          It would certainly be worth considering as a measure to get more men working in early years childcare and as primary school teachers. It is essential that these areas have more men working in them. Children need to see male role models just as much as aspiring female politicians need to see female role models.

          • Hugh

            But it would need to be applied more widely than that once you’ve established the principle, surely.

          • http://twitter.com/Scarletstand Emma Burnell

            what other female-dominated professions are you concerned about?

          • Hugh

            How about vets? Or PR professionals? Women are over-represented in a number of professions (and most of them if you take into account their overall representation in the workforce).

          • Chilbaldi

            More women become trainee solicitors and barristers these days than men. I demand we put in place a law that ensures its 50:50

          • http://twitter.com/Scarletstand Emma Burnell

            it would be very interesting to study why vetinary medicine has changed so much in the last few years. Is there something that is attracting a disproportionate number of women or repelling a disproportionate number of men. As it stands, while they are fairly evenly balanced at present, the younger members of the profession are far less so with women representing a much greater proportion of the profession. (details can all be found here: http://www.rcvs.org.uk/publications/rcvs-facts-2011/)

            PR professionals is an interesting area as women at present tend to dominate the lower, but not the higher ranks of the profession. Most senior PR professionals are male. Will we see this change as more women rise through the ranks? I hope so. But I also hope that men will also see gaining experience as a junior PR professional is a valuable thing to do if that is where your talents lie. If they too find themselves isolated within the industry, at least at their rank, then steps should be taken to counter that.

            However, what I don’t want to do is get bogged down in whataboutery. Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good is the endless friend of the status quo. And the status quo is not nearly good enough. This is my focus. On a political blog about Labour politics, I don’t think that is entirely unreasonable.
            I’d like to change representative poltics so that it is worthy of the name. And that is what I will keep my focus on. That is where I believe we can and should dedicate energy to ensuring that representation is equal between the sexes. This is not to avoid a much, much needed look at the cultural issues that cause such an imbalance, which is why AWS are an important tool in a much larger job of work.

          • http://twitter.com/northernheckler nilsinela boray

            I’ve been a teacher in special schools for many years – and I’ve found that it’s largely dominated (in the sense of numbers of staff) by women – however the reason you don’t need all male shortlisting or anything is because men tend to have an advantage in gaining posts in the field in that they stand out as being different – and in fact tend to gain a higher proportion of the senior posts than their numbers among the rank and file would indicate. This tends not to be the case for women entering male dominated areas of work

      • http://twitter.com/TJHKeeley Tom Keeley

        Unfortunately, for me, this is where your argument and a lot of other arguments in favour of AWS fall down.

        I could not agree more that in most CLPs meetings, policy forums and membership counts men outnumber women, often overwhelmingly, and frankly for a left of centre political party this is a disgrace. I don’t think the party has done nearly enough to encourage and enable women to participate fully in the political process. This imbalance throughout the party desperately needs to be addressed. However, AWS does very little. It attempts to impose equality on the surface, but everything below the surface is still deeply unequal. Are the workings of a CLP, who gains a female MP through an AWS, going to be more equal than previous? The public face of the party may become more equal, but the reality behind closed doors is that nothing changes. It is still just as hard for women to get involved and as you describe just as demoralising.

        I am all for a coherent party policy that works towards greater equality, and AWS may be a part of that policy, but on its own I think it is relatively ineffective and at times is hugely counter-productive.

      • AlanGiles

        With equal respect, Emma that doesn’t really answer my question does it?

        We saw, sadly, that many women MPs were just as bad as men with their jiggery-pokery over their expenses (buying your husbands porn on expenses takes the blue ribbon for all time), but yesterday we were given yet another reminder of those mucky days with the news Ms. Dorries is being investigated over “misunderstandings”, regarding her expenses. They never learn. Both male and female MPs seem to think they are a cut above everyone else, and while it is perfectly acceptable for them to tell us about “rights and responsibilities” they seem to think themselves somehow “different”. This is an attitude taken by a great number of both sexes, and why so many politicians, regardless of sex, are regarded with such suspicion and contempt.

        The point is, it is the calibre and character of a candidate that is important – not their sex. By the way, whenever AWS are mentioned the first name that comes to my lips is – Jack Dromey. How DID he manage it, and did the selection committee not realise that he wasn’t really what they were supposed to be looking for?.

        By the way you say to me “you will never know how demoralising it is to be outnumbered in every room you enter in your chosen career field. You will never know how disheartening it is that none of the other participants in that room even notice that someing is wrong.”
        Well, Emma, I work for a voluntary organisation and 90% of the volunteers are of the female sex. Do I feel “humiliated”?. Of course I don’t – I would,nt allow myself to feel that way. We all do our bit, such as it is. Surely it is a state of mind and if somebody is such a tender character they shouldn’t get involved in the cut and thrust.
        It seems to me, if I might be allowed to say so, that people who DO feel “humiliated” are a bit like the late Mary Whitehouse who insisted on feeling “disgusted” about naughty TV programmes. She felt offended and idgusted because she chose to feel so. Her alternative was to use that little on/off switch.

  • Redshift1

    Actually regions do the massive balancing act that you describe and then give recommendations to the NEC. It’s the NEC who make the final decision in Org Sub. They do not simply accept what regional offices say. Which puts regional offices in the tedious position of getting lambasted by CLPs for a decision that actually in some cases will be contrary to their recommendations.

    • http://twitter.com/Scarletstand Emma Burnell

      I quite agree. Which is why if the Org Sub makes a decision that goes against the recommendations of the Regional Offices, they as well as the CLP deserve to hear the thinking and rationale behind that decision. As does the Org Sub if their recommendations are overturned by the full NEC.
      The point is not pinpointing or shifting blame, but exposing the process to the clarity that transparency brings.

  • Daniel Speight

    Emma it’s OK you supporting AWS, but you have to accept by it’s very nature it removes power from the local party and gives it to the NEC. For me the worry is that it seems to produce female middle-class candidates who differ little from the male Oxbridge types other than their sex.

    Rather than enforcing shortlists how about offering CLPs incentives (bribes) to choose more female, working class, BAME, gay and disabled candidates. Then we could offer disincentives (fines) to CLPs that want middle-class, ex-spads, red princes or princesses and careerists.

  • http://twitter.com/bencobley Ben Cobley

    I put what I guess is the opposing argument here: http://afreeleftblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/all-women-shortlists-are-insiders.html

    I am sympathetic in many ways to this agenda though and would certainly welcome a raising of transparency, but at the same time there are lots of unsatisfactory aspects to the policy and indeed to the arguments made here.

    For a start, AWS are imposed centrally and therefore reduce democracy and accountability, weakening the crucial links between community, local party and central party. This comes down to a problem with this version of ‘representation’, as being about ‘groups’ in society. I see it as about representatives representing the represented – the electorate – this is what representative democracy is all about, and you attack it at your peril. A constituency is most likely going to be around 50:50 men and women, and the crucial link is that this is reflected in the local party, or electorate for a selection. To impose from above is to attack a problem of democracy by further anti-democratic practices.

    I also have a big problem with such casual statements as AWS being “good politics as our 26% lead among women voters shows”. This is about as far away from proving a scientific causation as you can get. Labour’s lead among women voters cannot just be laid at that door; from polling I have seen it seems to be related to policies, like on the NHS and childcare, and the Government’s poor record on these.

    What Labour needs to do is concentrate on being inclusive and drop the exclusive practices which so demoralise people, and of which AWS is probably the best example.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    …they can at least be confident they are not having an individual foisted upon them…

    How? If I want a cup of tea and you transparently and politely override my choice and tell me that I have to drink coffee, you’re foisting that choice on me. Explaining your decision may reduce some of the opposition to it, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are telling people who the NEC find to be acceptable choices.

    Off-topic: Please, for the love of god, stop saying “Org Sub”, it’s starting to sound like a Scientology meeting in here. You’ve already referred to it as the “Organisational Sub Committe” so why not the OSC or just “the committee”

  • Chilbaldi

    What supporters of AWS do not understand, is that getting more women in is about winning a battle with the minds of the public. A battle of the minds is not won by sticking two fingers up to everyone and saying ‘my way or the highway’. that is a way to create resentment (and enemies).

    We still haven’t solved the problem of getting more female members. AWS hasn’t cured this, it hasn’t inspired women to join in great numbers. It’s quite basic – the more women who join at grass roots level, the more women who put themselves forward for candidacy. Focus on that and I think we can trust Labour Party members to be open and fair in selecting their candidate.

  • Amber_Star

    Labour have yet to promote membership amongst women by e.g. offering it at a £1 per month rate for their 1st year of new membership. Is there a compelling reason why we can’t do something like this? It could be a way to tackle the low number of women members.

    Perhaps we need more Technology Support for CLPs. Women with kids can’t come to meetings if they can’t get a baby-sitter; so can’t we have a Labour webcast facility which CLPs can use to broadcast their meetings to members who can’t attend in person? It’s also possible to take questions & have votes using this technology. Global corporations use this stuff all the time. Is it so prohibitively expensive or difficult to use that Labour can’t consider having it widely used by CLPs?

    AWS is an easier way to make it seem like Labour are doing something than the suggestions which I’ve made above. However, if there is no follow up to AWS, no drive to increase membership amongst women, then it isn’t a strategy; it’s just a cry in the wilderness.

    • Chilbaldi

      Exactly. Membership, membership, increase female membership.

    • MonkeyBot5000

      If Mumsnet can manage to have a Q&A with the PM, it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of the Labour Party to arrange that.

      “Is it so prohibitively expensive or difficult to use…”

      A lot of the expense in the corporate world is having big screens that everyone can see clearly in the swanky boardroom. A webcast that people are watching in their homes would be a lot cheaper.

      The website could be very simple as it only needs a login option and a few static pages for the video and info – the video could even be embedded in an article on Labour List. I’ve never played with webcasting software, but I could knock up a basic site like that in a weekend so a professional designer would have no trouble.

      Once the website is set up, a CLP meeting could probably be done by one guy. You’d need some clip-on mics for the main people, one or two handhelds for the audience, small PA, camera & tripod/stand, laptop and internet access. For small enough meetings, you could probably get by with the camera mic and many places will already have a PA system in the building.

      In fact, without the PA, you could carry all you’d need in a bag over your shoulder and the equipment/software would probably cost £2k-£3k. Running costs should be pretty low, too.

      Or the party could just subscribe to a commercial service for something like a few hundred quid a month.

      • Amber_Star

        Thanks, MonkeyBot. I am going to find out more about this (& also try to get somebody with a bit of ‘clout’ in the Party to take this up) because you’ve helped me believe it could be an idea which has some potential.

        I’m wondering whether an interactive webcast format could be used for conference too. It’s great to send delegates & they do enjoy the experience of being there but the travel + hotel accommodation is quite a drain on the resources of a small CLP.

        • MonkeyBot5000

          If you want people at home to be voting during the meeting it would be more difficult as you’d have to verify who was voting, but just broadcasting the meeting would be relatively simple.

  • ColinAdkins

    If AWS are a means to an end fine. If the end is greater women’s representation fine.
    However a downside is that the beneficiaries are often women who have more life chances than many – female or male. If we seek more representative political institutions what are we going to about groups that are over represented? Less than 1% of the population go to Oxbridge, 25% of MPs are educated in these hallowed institutions. Spare me the brightest and best crap because it is not true.
    Funny many of the beneficiaries of AWS never seem to articulate the need to take other positive action measures to have more representative institutions. I wonder why? Yours cynically – Colin

  • ColinAdkins

    If AWS are a means to an end fine. If the end is greater women’s representation fine.
    However a downside is that the beneficiaries are often women who have more life chances than many – female or male. If we seek more representative political institutions what are we going to about groups that are over represented? Less than 1% of the population go to Oxbridge, 25% of MPs are educated in these hallowed institutions. Spare me the brightest and best crap because it is not true.
    Funny many of the beneficiaries of AWS never seem to articulate the need to take other positive action measures to have more representative institutions. I wonder why? Yours cynically – Colin

  • ColinAdkins

    If AWS are a means to an end fine. If the end is greater women’s representation fine.
    However a downside is that the beneficiaries are often women who have more life chances than many – female or male. If we seek more representative political institutions what are we going to about groups that are over represented? Less than 1% of the population go to Oxbridge, 25% of MPs are educated in these hallowed institutions. Spare me the brightest and best crap because it is not true.
    Funny many of the beneficiaries of AWS never seem to articulate the need to take other positive action measures to have more representative institutions. I wonder why? Yours cynically – Colin

  • ColinAdkins

    If AWS are a means to an end fine. If the end is greater women’s representation fine.
    However a downside is that the beneficiaries are often women who have more life chances than many – female or male. If we seek more representative political institutions what are we going to about groups that are over represented? Less than 1% of the population go to Oxbridge, 25% of MPs are educated in these hallowed institutions. Spare me the brightest and best crap because it is not true.
    Funny many of the beneficiaries of AWS never seem to articulate the need to take other positive action measures to have more representative institutions. I wonder why? Yours cynically – Colin

    • Chilbaldi

      Hear hear.

  • http://twitter.com/northernheckler nilsinela boray

    It took me a while to understand AWS – but eventually the penny dropped and I support them wholeheartedly. Some Tories (Nadine Dorries being a notable example) (Does she even count as Tory now ?) – would have you believe that there is something undemocratic about AWS – and that a candidacy won via AWS is somehow inferior to one won on the merits of the candidate alone . Labour is though, a closed group for the purposes of candidate selection – if we were proposing AWS for – I don’t know, county council seats – then that would be deeply undemocratic. We’re not though – it’s within out party, because we’ve chosen as a party to do that.

    There are problems with the promotion of women within the party which might not be immediately obvious though. In my local branch for instance we were asked to nominate a woman delegate to conference every other year – as I think all branches are. In fact though we had so few active women members that we couldn’t get one to attend – and so ended up with no delegate; and with the same situation next year – as we don’t get to send a man until we’ve sent a woman. I think we did eventually get a way round this, but it took several years – and on female candidate had been to conference a good few times when she didn’t really want to.

    The make of of the branch being so overwhelmingly male is indicative of a wider problem, that i don’t think is really addressed by such simplistic measures – but is not as great a problem in my opinion as the absence of young members. I’m 51 and I’m pretty much the youth wing ! I believe that the sense of pointlessness which is bred by safe seat constituencies does a great deal to perpetuate these problems (and I’m reasonably confident it also does for Tories and Lib Dems).

    • Andy

      The fact that as you claim you can’t send a male and in turn can’t send a delegate is the problem. The solution isn’t to stop males going it’s to change they system so anyone can go!

      I don’t know your CLP but you may have a very good ‘young male’ who wants to attend but the stupidity dictates he can’t. That kind of ‘gender democracy’ could result in them leaving.

      The problem of CLP’s sending the same ‘male’ candidates is more to do with CLP’s being closed shops which is as much a problem for males not in the closed shop bubble as it is for women.

  • Andy

    Little game for AWS supporters:

    Choose 10 of your all time favourite male MP’s
    Choose 10 female MP’s
    You’ve a selection list of 10 to fill.

    Which of the 10 male MP’s would you drop to accommodate AWS

    If your answer is all of them you need to leave the party.

    If you come to the conclusion that AWS is a pathetic system, that
    jobs should be for those with the best ability to do them (which could
    be all 10 women, 9 women and 1 male, all 10 males etc.) and that this
    system should be immediately dropped then welcome to the real world.

  • Pingback: Resistance to all-women shortlists in South Wales has a complex set of causes beyond gender politics, but that doesn’t make it right : Democratic Audit UK

  • Pingback: Resistance to all-women shortlists in South Wales has a complex set of causes beyond gender politics, but that doesn’t make it right | Richard Berry

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