Why aren’t more women winning “open” Labour Party selections?

15th March, 2013 9:45 am

Update: The list I had seen of open selections appeared to indicate that Warwick and Leamington was an open selection. I have since been shown evidence that Warwick and Leamington was an AWS selection – that means that no women have been selected in open selections in target seats since 2010. The below post has been amended to reflect that change.

Earlier this week the party’s powerful Org Sub met to discuss the latest list of selections – including which would be “open” selections and which would be All-Women Shortlists (AWS). The use of AWS has been criticised by some in recent weeks, and some may never be reconciled to a system which stops them getting selected seeks to address the chronic gender imbalance in parliament.

To those who suggest that there is no need for AWS, it might be worth considering recent party selections that have taken place. So far there have been 22 AWS selections in target seats, all of which have obviously selected female candidates. There have also been 19 Open selections in target seats in this parliament – the results of which are below. Can you spot the trend?

Constituency Candidate
Loughborough Matthew O’Callaghan
Bedford Patrick Hall
Cambridge Daniel Zeichner
Hertsmere Richard Butler
Ipswich David Ellesmere
Norwich South Clive Lewis
Watford Matthew Turmaine
Waveney Bob Blizzard
Crewe & Nantwich Adrian Heald
Chatham & Aylesford Tristan Osborne
Gillingham & Rainham Paul Clark
Milton Keynes South Andrew Pakes
Reading East Matt Rodda
Bristol North West Darren Jones
North Swindon Mark Dempsey
Stroud David Drew
Burton Jon Wheale
Cannock Chase Janos Toth
Warwick & Leamington Lynette Kelly

Of 19  18 “Open” selections in target seats, 18 have been won by men.

In the only “open” selection won by a female candidate – Warwick and Lemington – the only other shortlisted candidate was also female. When presented with a choice between a man and a women in a target seat selection, the party hasn’t selected a woman since before the last election.

Ah – I hear you cry – but what about by-election selections? They’ve selected female candidates. I’m glad you raised that, because you’re right. Here are the by-election selections since 2010:

Constituency Candidate
Eastleigh John O’Farrell
Croydon North Steve Reed
Middlesbrough Andy McDonald
Rotherham Sarah Champion
Cardiff South & Penarth Stephen Doughty
Corby Andy Sawford
Manchester Central Lucy Powell
Bradford West Imran Hussain
Feltham and Heston Seema Malhotra
Inverclyde Iain McKenzie
Leicester South Jon Ashworth
Barnsley Central Dan Jarvis
Oldham East and Saddleworth Debbie Abrahams

Out of 13 by-election selections (which are always “open” selections) only 4 of the candidates have been women – and one of those was in Rotherham, where the only other shortlisted candidate was also female, which led to a walk out at the selection.

That means in total out of 32 31 open selections since 2010, 27 have been won by men. 

Since May 2010, only three women – Lucy Powell, Seema Malhotra and Debbie Abrahams – have beaten male candidates in an open selection.

For whatever reason (and I sense that many of the strongest female candidate are choosing to go for AWS seats, which will play a part), open selections are becoming almost entirely male dominated. Those who would remove AWS need to explain why this is happening, and how they would ensure equal representation for women without AWS in a system that currently seems skewed towards male candidates…

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  • JamesB

    Re: ‘normal’ selections (as opposed to by-election ones) there’s bound to be a displacement effect as women will tend to target AWS selections. You probably need to look at stats for applicants vs result.

    The by-election figures might be a pretty good indicator of what would happen if there were no AWS – roughly one third would be women candidates.

  • Good post Mark. The argument against is always that AWS is patronising to women, ‘inferior’ candidates are selected (who? this is massively insulting – and are all the male candidates selected on open lists so wonderful?!)…then there are the esoteric geographic arguments ‘the Neighbouring seat has a woman’ ‘we had a woman last time’ … and then of course the classic ‘but there’s a good local man…’ …but then there’s always a good local man isn’t there? The issue is why the women are shut out.

    The fact is that large sections of the Labour Party are in denial on the level of sexism women face, because there is huge complacency – ‘I’ve been a socialist all my life, how can I be sexist’. These comrades can see the impact of sexism but not the causes, especially in their own behaviour.

    Women are not selected less often in open selections because they are not interested in politics, or not up to the job – it’s sexism. And the fact is that structural sexism requires a structural solution to address under representation of women. No other method has worked in the UK, so if you don’t like AWS, then say what you would do instead, or keep quiet.

  • John

    With AWSs comes one major issue – you can’t escape the fact that by forcing the choice of someone based on their gender, you’re:

    a) Potentially not hiring the best person for the job (that works both ways)

    b) Being sexist, by attempted to not be sexist

    I don’t have a fullproof solution – perhaps improve on the selection process? Address the gender balance in people who are actually selecting the candidate? But creating a potential situation of “I’m sorry, you may be perfect for the job, but you can’t have it because you have a penis” isn’t a solution as far as I’m concerned. And if it happened in my constituency, the idea bothers me so much I’d be tempted to not vote for that candidate out of protest. Plus how little respect must someone have for their own ability to be happy that 50% of the competition is removed before ability is even considered?

    And on top of that, I don’t see how that’s any different from a women not getting the job because she’s a woman. You don’t solve sexism with sexism, it’s silly.

    Pick the best person for the job. Not the person that best fits a quote based on what’s in their pants.

  • “Those who would remove AWS need to explain why [these results are] happening, and how they would ensure equal representation for women without AWS in a
    system that currently seems skewed towards male candidates…”

    Mark answered his own question just before in saying, “I sense that many of the strongest female candidate are choosing to go for AWS seats, which will play a part.” Nevertheless I am surprised at the extent of the imbalance shown in these results. My initial speculative theory is that when the selections game is rigged one way, the electorate (of whom I have heard anecdotally around 70% are male), may do their bit to rig it back the other way. This is what happens when you play identity politics: the assertion of one identity over the other produces a reaction in the other direction.

    In terms of “ensuring” equal representation of women, I’d go back to the original *democratic* idea of representation which is about electorates rather than GDR-style fixing. If it is mostly male members in CLPs who are deciding who these candidates are, then that electorate needs to be expanded so that women are included more. Despite all Labour’s efforts to say it is the party of women, it would seem (and it would be nice to have these figures made available) that female membership hasn’t budged much.

    So I think we should swallow our pride and follow the Tories, who have been electing female candidates (Sarah Wollaston and Caroline Dinenage) by open primaries. In this day and age, there is no reason these processes should be overly expensive. And, as long as they are run in a suitably democratic manner, they will end once and for all this interminable wrangle about fairness.

    I’ve written about AWS and identity politics on my blog below – plus yesterday put a post up on Patriarchy and the Left’s new feminist ideologues.


    • Felix

      Ben, I can confirm as fact that compensatory candidate selection is going on as that’s precisely what happened on my patch.

  • Felix

    Many of them opposed to AWS have no intention of ever standing. You should be very careful about belittling and patronising such people as many of them are elderly, long-standing party members who have dedicated years of their lives to the Labour Party. They are the bedrock of the vast majority of local party organisation and ridiculing them is beneath contempt.

  • I’m in favour of open primaries – especially in safe seats. It will force potential candidates to build relationships across the constituency, engage in debate with people from across the spectrum and give more people a stake in how they are represented. Because an open primary will be a much more difficult battle, only top quality candidates will go for it and the standard of MPs will be forced up. This would end the ‘jobs for the boys’ approach that can often happen when factions within the local party wield all the power. The CLP can develop a gender-balanced shortlist for the people to choose from – and the gender balance of the wider electorate will be much stronger than within a typical CLP.

  • charles.ward

    Perhaps it’s because strong male candidates are excluded from AWS seats so they have to apply for non-AWS seats. This leads to an increased proportion of strong male candidates in these non-AWS seats. AWS might be discriminatory but at least they’re self-defeating!

    • Martinay

      How can open selection lead to more strong male applicants from within the constituency? That makes no sense at all.
      Arguably, it may lead to more strong male applicants from outside the constituency. But, then, by definition, being from outside, they are less strong.
      Moreover, AWS should act to mobilise strong women both within and outside a constituency to run in an AWS race AND in an OLS race.
      So, unlike OLS, AWS should increase the number of strong women ‘outsiders’ in an OLS race.

      Let’s face it, the main reason we have female under-representation is institutionalised sexism in our society. The AWS system acts at least to raise awareness of this.

      • The selected candidate is VERY often NOT from the constituency.

  • Felix

    “When presented with a choice between a man and a women in a target seat selection, the party hasn’t selected a woman since before the last election.”

    So the bleedin obvious is now supposed to be significant, is it?

  • Joe D

    Excellent article. The stats fatally undermine the argument against AWS. If you’re serious about women’s representation, you need AWS’ for now.

    Problem is that they’re also a challenge for those of us who support the AWS system. They are essentially a neccessary evil; barring some people from going for selection in order to achieve the much needed ends of gender-balance. Even the most vocal proponents of AWS recognise they are a means to an end and that they can’t be a permanent solution.

    However, the fact that so few women are being selected on open shortlists poses a challenge to this. Imagine if we finally manage to achieve a gender-balanced PLP in, say, 2020. If we then moved away from AWS, these stats suggest we might move backwards in terms of gender representation, as happened in 2001 when the AWS system was banned. As Mark suggests, the disparity in open selections might even up as we move away from AWS as we’d have lots more of our talented women competing in open seats rather than in AWS seats. But it’s unlikely to close the divide altogether.

    What I think this shows is that we need more work on the culture-change side, alongside retaining the AWS system. Things like the Fabian Women’s Network mentoring scheme seem to work really well and should be replicated. We also need to make more of the female talent in the PLP. It was pretty shameful that despite our obvious advantage in terms of gender representation over the Tories and Lib Dems, the 2010 election campaign was a bit of a sausage factory. I think the unions could play a bigger role as well, helping and encouraging their members (majority women) to stand, rather than just their officials (majority men).

    We can only confidently move away from AWS in the future if we have both a balanced PLP *and* a genuinely level playing field so we can make the best of the talent within the party, irrespective of gender.

  • Daniel Speight

    It would be nice to see some AWCS constituencies, All Working Class Shortlists. After all isn’t that what Ed has been saying. Hope it’s not just lip service, but I suspect it is as it’s a bit of the turkeys voting for Christmas isn’t it?

    • Martinay

      All Working Class Shortlists worked brilliantly for the Supreme Soviet. Great idea Daniel! How’s your moustache coming along?

      • AlanGiles

        Well, do we need yet more Oxbridge graduates, wealthy scions of friends of the family, wives of millionaire authors or “colourful” solicitors packing out the Labour benches?.

        It is not inconceivable that the reason so many politicians of all parties are so identikit and mediocre is because, regardless of party, they all get there by the same route?

        • Martinay

          Yeah. Right on brother. Why don’t we take another tip from Uncle Joe and send all those scions to a gulag in Grantham. And when we’ve imprisoned them and their friends, we can come and take you away too.

          • AlanGiles

            Now you are just being silly.

          • Martinay

            It is not silly to suggest that your prejudices are dangerous.

          • AlanGiles

            If you say so, you pompous little man.

          • Danny

            But you don’t have a problem with All Oxbridge graduate shortlists or All Special Advisor shortlists? So what is your problem with the concept of All Working Class Shortlists? And please don’t answer by flippantly pointing at the Soviet regime as if that is anything like a reasonable comparison.

            I suppose you think those damn peasants couldn’t navigate their way round Westminster and would be torn apart by their social superiors in the House of Commons.

            Never mind the fact that a larger quorum of MPs with backgrounds similar to significant portions of the electorate might help with the endemic apathy for politics in our country. Never mind the fact that a House of Commons packed with people who have experienced the problems they are trying to address would doubtless make more informed decisions.

            No, encouraging working-class participation through positive discrimination should be dismissed as communist nonsense.

            And I’m not quite sure why this has had to be posted twice after my first one failed moderation. What possible reason justifies this being “moderated” other than it might not align with the views of the editor? Now that is worthy of a comparison with the Soviet Union.

          • aracataca

            The prejudice is usually accompanied by nasty little insults- oh I see this has already happened. He also does a line in patronising young people. It’s called trolling I believe Martinay.

          • Daniel Speight

            Aracataca in this case it was Martinay who started the insults and trolling. Just read above.

      • Daniel Speight

        Are you going to take your objections to working class candidates to Ed Miliband then Martinay?

      • Daniel Speight

        Are you going to take your objections to working class candidates to Ed Miliband then Martinay?

    • How do we define working class? Is it the home you grew up in or the one you are in now? For example, both my parents left school without qualification. Throughout my childhood we were considered poor. I was the last in my class at school to get a car or a computer, all my clothes were previously worn by my brother etc. But now both my parents have degrees and I have three. Would I qualify as working class or not?

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      Define “working class”?

      I work for my living. Am I working class?

      • rekrab

        So you’ve learned how to smile as you skill, separately negotiating your own terms of conditions is pretty much individualism, until you can realise the goal of collectivism I’d say your in the self help department.

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          Lovely song, from an album that is wonderful (it makes the 8 CDs that my car can take. And “Breakfast in America” is by itself a great, and always makes me want to drink orange juice).

          But Derek, we have all “given a little bit”, for many years, perhaps most easily measured in hours worked per week (as we all now fill in time-sheets). My own time-sheet cannot record more than 55 hours a week, and that is even after opting out of the European working Time directive.

          I don’t see it as self-help, because if I did I would not be a junior A&E Consultant in the NHS: I would be somewhere else in the world earning proper money. I do this job in the UK because I like it, and because the NHS makes sense to me. But, the system should not push too hard against me, because every year I have to justify to my family why I spend more than 55 hours a week in some frankly shitty little hospital dealing with drunks and road crash victims, many of whom are only there because of their own poor choices. It’s actually quite a relief to get in a patient who is not there because of some alcohol-related reason, either self-induced or inherent in the perpetrator of an accident.

          We had a good case yesterday, a young man who had fallen and taken the weight of his fall on his left elbow, resulting in a completely classic case of his humerus displacing the complete clavicle, with associated tearing of tissue across the entire deltoid, rhomboid and pectoral muscles, as well as a complex and compound fracture of the humerus over 7 inches from elbow upwards. The major pectoral tendon was shorn at the bicipital groove. That is proper investigation, analysis, deduction and medical judgement, not some drunk woman coming in who merely needs to be monitored to make sure she does not choke herself to death on her own vomit.

          • rekrab

            Additional working hours aren’t uncommon, someone packing the chocolate buttons at the end of an assembly line will often clock up 15 hours over their 40 hour week.

            Keeping time, staying in tune and marching together was my point just like the boys did last summer in Quimper.


          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            55/40ths chocolate button packing is hardly very exciting, is it? Frankly, making and packing chocolate buttons should lead a man to worry about his purpose on this earth. It can be done by machines, and probably more efficiently.

          • rekrab

            I dunno Jaime, in the great shape of things I’d reckon the stress levels were higher at the cutting end of life saving and A/E referrals.

            Administrating drugs can’t always be a straight forward choice? human era and mis-diagnoses must happen.

            I’m all for progress in the fight against ill health but I doubt whether full automation in the labouring market is helpful and conducive to the greater need of creating jobs.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Derek, I’m not sure what you are on about. I actually quite enjoy stress: it is God’s way of telling you you are working just about hard enough, and can therefore feel good about yourself.

            Talking about “the great shape of things”, here’s something you’ll enjoy (and I love their band name) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVYRM3hGM0s . Although goodness, the lead singer needs an Un-Oscar for the worst sort of over-acting.

          • rekrab

            Prepare others? but would you cover yourself with such angel dust?


            Well just to help you with the stress relax and watch how Wales hammered England and took the six nation tittle.

      • aracataca

        No but you’re an absolute martyr. I wish we all worked as hard as you do.

  • Chilbaldi

    Did you think, Mark, in your limited analysis of this (you haven’t gone further than listing facts and coming to a lazy conclusion), that the issue might be a lack of female members?

    – think of ways to increase female membership and interest in politics
    – think of ways to increase female participation in the Labour party structures from branch level upwards

    Nothing the Labour party has tried so far has succeeded in doing this. Including all women shortlists.

    The other obvious suggestion is that all final shortlists should consist of 2 men and 2 women. Then you would most definitely see more women selected from ‘open’ selections. But no, lets keep the current system which is useful for wedging the right sorts of women into parliament.

    • Anecdotally, my experience has been that whilst there are more men than women as members, the difference isn’t nearly so broad as the gender gap between male activists and female activists. So it’s not a lack of members, though a lack of engagement of female members probably plays a role.

      As for your other suggestion, open shortlists still have to have 50% women on the shortlist, rounded down. The problem is that the women who’ve made the list don’t seem to have been strong enough. Certainly when my CLP selected the 3 male candidates seemed vastly more convincing and qualified than the 2 female candidates.

    • Selections for 2001 General Election required gender balanced short lists. There were no all women short lists. Result of seats that returned MPs 38 men 4 women.

  • AlanGiles

    Far be it from me to intrude on private grief, but if you are going to positively discriminate for one group, then you will get the opposite reaction, where they are not having this imposed on them.

    I can only say again, it is the quality and integrity of the candidate which should be the first and only consideration. The sex is immaterial. There are good women MPs and there are bad – ditto men – would Labour in the right minds want Eric Joyce and Margaret Moran back?.

    If you must have AWS at least weed out the Dawn Butlers, Hazel Blears, Barbara Folletts, Jacqui Smiths etc etc whose personal greed helped contribute to Labour losing the last election

    • IIRC only Smith was selected from an AWS out of those you mentioned. The others were products of Open Shortlists.

      • AlanGiles

        Yes, I don’t dispute that, but the point is it is the honesty of the candidate which matters, not the sex. If a person is untrustworthy, that’s it, male or female. Not worth bothering with

      • charles.ward

        Margaret Moran was selected from an AWS.

        • yes, you’re right. I didn’t notice that Moran was also mentioned. I meant Butler, Blears and Follett.

  • NT86

    Still reckon that women candidates should try to make it on their own merit rather than relying on AWS. It’s career feminism and political correctness gone mad IMO.

    Bottom line: we need good, competent, honest and caring politicians. That is all I ask for and I don’t care who delivers it.

    • AlanGiles

      Agree aabsolutely

    • Jeremy_Preece

      I agree that we should always try to select the best candidate. The two qualities to look for are electability and how good they would be as an MP.
      AWS discussed on this page moves into the area of working class backgrounds. If we start going down this road we then have to have a quota of working class backgrounds, then we could have to engineer sexual orientation and ethnic background, and so on.
      It would not only be very silly, but the electorate wouldn’t buy it either.
      I mean it isn’t as if there are no decent women MPs, Stella Creasy and Yvette Cooper are always ranked as the best in the LabourList polls. Surely it is an insult to say that these and other highly skilled and excellent women MPs need to have the voting rigged to exclude male competition.

      • Daniel Speight

        Jeremy it was me who threw in the working class candidate shortlist. I did that because if there is an argument for Labour having shortlists for women, then the same argument can logically be made for other groups who are under-represented as candidates.

        Historically the party was of and for the working class while the feminist party was of course the Suffragettes, so one could almost say the idea of increasing working class candidates is more in line with history than increasing those of women.

        Still if it were my choice I would say that there should be no NEC control of shortlists and instead everything done at a local CLP level. The party leadership could certainly lean on CLPs using financial or organizational pressure to encourage certain choices, but it should be open to the CLP to ignore this pressure.

        As it is at the moment AWS is just used by female careerists to get a leg up on their rival male version. This is as it would be with any shortlisting system for any group. As with many careers it would probably be best to have candidates that were reluctant to be such and needed to be persuaded to stand, which I suspect could be done far easier at a local level.

        To me the major problem in the PLP is that its members are drawn from too small a pool whether male or female. The lack of real life experience is troubling, and yes a few, or more, from the working class may diminish the toxic public perception of Labour’s part of the political class.

        • Jeremy_Preece

          Daniel, I certainly think that there is a massive problem when we have so many PPE Oxbridge graduates on both sides of the house. We really need to have candidates who have life experince so that would be older ones who have worked in professions, and ordinary jobs that are nothing to do with politics.
          When you look at our Ed, Nick Clegg and Cameron, they even look slightly like each other. The issue is that these identikit folk seem to have more in common with each other than each has with their own party.

    • So strong female candidates should refuse to stand because they disagree with the criteria used for selection? This will increase the supply of good and competent candidates how?

      Your chosen solution would just reverse seats for bad women candidates. I don’t see how anybody wins from that.

  • Martinay

    A twist in the OLS/AWS system exists to promote increased selection of people of colour (branches must nominate one man and one woman in an OLS race: if neither is self-defined as “BAME” [what a demeaning acronymn] then the branch can nominate a third person who does self-define as “BAME”).

    How successful has this system been at increasing the number of applicants and PPCs who are people of colour?

    Could Mark Ferguson do the maths for us?

    I would bet it’s been pretty useless. What’s more this anti-racism twist has not even worked to raise awareness of the problem. As far as I’m aware.

  • NT86

    Also, having read about Dr Adrian Heald’s professional background as an NHS clinician I think one can overlook the lack of a female candidate for Crewe and Nantwich (which itself was once held by one of Labour’s best ever female MP’s).

  • Amber_Star

    It takes time, Mark. The procedural & sometimes adversarial approach at CLP level puts women off. I’m hoping that Arnie Graf’s encouragement of a more relational, conversational, approach to CLP meetings will gain traction in the Party. I think that could make a difference to the number of women who come to meetings regularly.

    I’d actually be interested in seeing the ages of the selected candidates as well as their gender. Women often come to politics later than men because they don’t have enough free time until their kids are teenagers. The low number of women candidates for open selections could be more ageist than sexist; so, Mark, if you have time to do the same data but by age, I think it might support my thoughts about this issue.

    • Chilbaldi

      In fairness Amber, the procedural approach puts EVERYONE off CLP meetings other than the pub bores and clinically insane.

      • Alexwilliamz

        Oh so true.

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  • PeterBarnard

    I just wonder how strong the wish for all-woman shortlists actually is?

    Here in Chester, there was a ballot of the membership (all 418 of them ; 246 male and 172 female) with the question, “Which do you prefer – AWS or open?”

    The “turnout” was just 25%, ie 75% apparently had no preference. Of those who did vote, 60% said “open” and 40% said, “AWS” : just 10 per cent of the whole membership actually wanted an AWS.

    The Organisational Sub-Committee has determined that Chester will be “Open.”

    Whether or not Chester is a “typical” CLP, I don’t know. It’s certainly middle-class – the heaviest intensity (members per ‘000 electors) is in the more affluent parts of town, with the lowest intensity of membership in the two areas with a large proportion of “social housing.”

    • That’s a really interesting survey. I wonder if it has something to do with a dislike of head office telling CLPs what to do? In a sense it does detract from the idea that Labour is a bottom-up movement of people, as opposed to a top down, hierarchical, almost corporate structure.

      • PeterBarnard

        I’m not quite sure on your tentative conclusion, Jonathan.

        Perhaps I should have made clear that the ballot took place as a result of Regional Office asking the Executive Committee to “consult the membership” whether we wanted an AWS or open shortlist, and a general meeting decided that a full ballot of the membership was the only appropriate “consultation.”

        The result was given to the Regional Director, who sent it on the “Org-sub,” who subsequently decided that Chester should be “open.”

        There is some truth in your “bottom-up vs top down” observation.

        • That’s fair enough Peter. I do know of a few CLPs who have run similar exercises, said ‘no’ to an AWS and had their decision subsequently ignored by the Organisational Sub-Committee. This caused considerable upset and led to an assumption that the surveys were just a box-ticking exercise. But good you were listened to at least.

          • PeterBarnard

            I think it was “luck of the draw” as much as anything (rather than” being listened to”), Jonathan.
            The fact that we had a woman as MP for 1997-2010 (after an AWS) may have been germane to proceedings, but who knows?

        • That’s fair enough Peter. I know some CLPs have had the same exercise, delivered a ‘no’ vote but still had an AWS imposed on them. That led to considerable frustration and a belief that such exercises were nothing more than being for box-ticking purposes (which caused me to write the view expressed in my second sentence above). But it’s good you were listened to. Interesting stats too about the makeup of your CLP by the way. In my constituency (Thirsk and Malton) the lion share of members still come from affluent villages, not the social housing areas within the towns, despite a membership drive.

  • RobW

    I’m currently doing an MA in Politics and have actually been looking at this issue in some detail over the past few months. Most detailed studies actually point to a problem in supply, rather than demand. In short, there are a lot more men who wish to be MP’s than women and, despite efforts to encourage greater application by female members and activists, the pool of potential female candidates is smaller than the pool of potential female candidates (See for example Pippa Norris’ excellent work on representation and candidate selection, or Richard Katz on the selection process).

    The main problem that this presents is threefold: firstly, the female candidates that do tend to apply are those that have the resources to campaign so tend to be unrepresentative in other ways (middle-class, white, professional, often already politically involved), secondly, that in some instances (such as in local election panels) because of a lack of applicants, some potential candidates are endorsed based solely on gender rather than skill and, correspondingly, aren’t selected purely based on a lack of merit. Thirdly, and most significantly, most CLPs want a local candidate who is active in their communities. While there are occasionally excellent female candidates that meet this criteria, often there are not, meaning that a candidate has to be “parachuted” from elsewhere. When the local male candidate is picked over the favoured female candidate, it is often mistakenly attributed to sexism, when often it is merely because they have these local credentials.

    The other major problem is one of direct and indirect prejudice. Direct prejudice (ie individual members who are sexist, racist or biased in some other way) is becoming less of a problem, but indirect prejudice remains one. Indirect prejudice is a product of political thinking such as “I really like this female candidate, but I doubt the electors will vote for a woman in this particular CLP, thus it makes more sense to pick a man for the sake of electoral success”. It is this attitude, above all, that undermines some open selections, but i don’t believe the heavy handedness of AWS is the answer unless that is also linked by a much more comprehensive effort to source high quality female candidates from within constituencies themselves.

  • Amber_Star

    Cait wasted her time beating the government on workfare. And Labour are allegedly going to back the government on a rather nasty, retroactive bill which will stop people receiving what they are due. If Labour are going to support this, I hope that there’s an amazingly good reason as to why they would do such a thing!


    • It’s disgraceful. Labour also failed to vote against Tory plans to remove trade union rights from some civil servants the other day. Looks like the Blairites are back in the driving seat.

      • AlanGiles

        Too true, Alex. The quieter and more timid Miliband and co are on these sort of (in their eyes,) issues that might upset the tabloids and the “squeezed middle” if they took a principled stand (as they failed to do two weeks ago on the Defence secretary’s speech saying that the welfare budget should be cut further to accomodate defence) the more convinced I am a future Labour government will be ersatz New Labour. To be frank, that is why I can’t be bothered with the party any more.

        • It’s too depressing. Also, this really needs to be written up as an article on here. Much more important than Gavin Barwell’s browser history.

  • One thing that Mark has neglected and no one seems to have mentioned is the role of the Labour Women’s Network in training and directing female candidates for public office. Especially since the support and advice given includes on Labour selection processes, I would be astonished if the ‘cadre’ of potential candidates are not advised on which seats to go for; it’d be good to get some confirmation on that though. http://www.lwn.org.uk/about/how-we-work/

    • Chilbaldi

      I have it on good authority that they are.

  • Hi Mark,

    Just wondering if you’d looked at how this compares to the open selections prior to the introduction of AWS? Surely one of the outcomes of the introduction of AWS was always going to be a higher concentration of men in the open selections? That’s not to say I’m against AWS, just that their introduction has externalities which might be able to be used to demonstrate a greater need for AWS than there really is.



    • For 2001 General Election there were no all women short lists. Result of newly elected MPs 38 men and 4 women.

  • Matthew Tomlinson

    Erm, because the strongest, most focussed and most ambitious women candidates will apply for seats which are deemed to be AWS where half the potential candidates have already been eliminated. Any similarly well qualified men are then left to fight over the seats that remain, making it harder for all men and any remaining women to be picked for those seats. The inference from your headline, that women dont get picked in the seats which have Open selections, and therefore that justifies the existence of AWS in the first place, doesn’t stand up to any kind of logical scrutiny.

    In fact, if we truly want a 50/50 split in representation then perhaps logic would dictate that all seats which aren’t AWS really ought to be AMS (All Male Shortlists)!

    Do we need to encourage a more diverse PLP? Yes! Absolutely. Are AWS a very blunt instrument for doing so. Yes, again.

    You also infer that people might be against AWS just because it lessens their chances of being selected. If you are told you cant be selected for a seat because of your gender, I reckon that people have every right to feel agrieved.

    I’m not trying to provide any glib answers but your article is pretty poorly thought through.

  • Councillor Sally Prentice

    I think Labour Women’s Network could be asked to survey all the women who applied for the seats listed above to find out what factors influenced their choice of seats, and why women who applied for open seats felt they were unsuccessful. Then we would have some feedback to discuss rather than simply speculating on why very few women are selected in the open seats. In 2001 AWS weren’t used and the safe seats overwhelmingly selected male candidates.

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  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    As an outsider, amy I only offer the opinion that the more this battle (AWS / vs the alternative) is fought out in public, the less it benefits Labour as a national Party?

    If AWS were decided upon and then a woman candidate offered to the electorate, most non-Labour people could not give “a toss”. If an AWS battle was fought in public, with good men being discarded purely by their sex, then the general electorate would probably begin to question Labour’s motives, and the more questioning of Labour, the more embarrassing “detail” will be thrown up. Ultimately, to the state of embarrassment of choosing for an AWS Mrs Harriet Dromey (or is that Mr Jack Harman?)

    Keep your dirty little deals in private, Labour. You won’t get any more votes for exposing them, and if they become public, much less.

    • Jack Dromey has obviously been selected from an Open shortlist. It’s just some Tories who continue to repeat (out of ignorance or spinning) that Erdington was an AWS.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        Well, it was due to be an AWS, and announced as so. And then, under pressure from Unite the union (according to Peter Watt, the Labour General Secretary), it was suddenly not an AWS, as they wished to find a safe seat for Jack Dromey. He was duly “parachuted” in. The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party – normally a strong advocate of AWS who took a personal interest in advancing this policy – absented herself from any decision making or comment on the abrupt reversal of policy.

        If you have a problem with this sort of electoral strong-arming of preferred candidates, do not blame me. Take the memoirs of the then serving Labour Party General Secretary, and ask questions of others.

        • It wasn’t never officially announced as AWS.

          Unite and others may have lobbied (and probably did) for an Open shortlist during the consultation period (IIRC that week they decided on Erdington and Wallsall South and AWS was given to WS) . I don’t dispute the fact that there have been manoeuvres to make it open, just that the NEC announced and then changed it.

          Infact, instead of concentrating on the red herring of the AWS (some shortlists somewhere must be open afterall), it would be interesting to look at the people he was shortlisted with (that’s there IMO that the parachuting actions were at their best/worst depending on how you look at them)

          Peter Watt wasn’t General Secretary anymore at time of these decisions. He was forced to resign 2 and half years before that.

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  • Alexwilliamz

    Do you work? :Cough: Have to agree with your observation, I’d rather we talked about people having done a few things outside politics before standing for parliament short lists.

  • Alexwilliamz

    Of course that only represents successful candidates and not overall candidates, but I’m guessing it is probably pretty similar across the board. If it were not that might suggest either a) voters favour male candidates (a different kind of problem) or b) women had a better chance of getting selected in less attractive constituencies.

    All this goes to show is that we still need AWS to ensure we have a decent group of women, I would not surprise me if strong female candidates are not drawn to those constituencies with AWS, it just makes sense. Now this may well have had a subsequent impact upon what happens in other constituencies. The only way of remedying this is having other criteria like having to live within or in adjacent constituency for some years before selection, thus removing the ‘flow’ of pool of candidates. However provided all candidates both male and female of a strong enough calibre and are able to genuinely represent those who vote for them, the gender and mechanism should not be an issue.

  • Chilbaldi

    And in 2001 there was the same problem of very few female party members.

    increase female membership, increase number and quality of female applicants.

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  • Interesting post – do you have any stats on whether the total number/proportion of women candidates coming forward has increased as a result of AWS? If the number coming forward has increased, but their candidacy is being concentrated into fewer seats so that less people have a chance to vote for a woman candidate, that sort of thing? Are there any stats on gender make up of electorate for open selection?

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  • Ezekiel Walker

    I am sure that there will be a blizzard of corrections, but I have not seen a black or Asian ppc amongst this list. The principle objection of AWS is the random way in which it is used – as a tool to block unwanted men, or to make things difficult / easier for prominent women. Looking at all MPs who were neither parachuted in nor union fed, their principle asset as a candidate was the fact that they were local. So why is it that seats with large African Caribbean populations routinely have AWS (West Ham, Hackney South, Lewisham Deptford, Lewisham East, Walthamstow – all amongst the “Blackest 15 seats”) a process that continues to disenfranchise Black men, and ensure that urban black areas are represented by middle-class white women. At present, the Tories have more male African Caribbean MPs than Labour? Nobody in the party cares about this. Nobody in the Unions cares about this. Labour just continues to take the Black vote for granted, and treat its African Caribbean members with contempt. And for the record, I believe that only 2 non-white women have EVER won an AWS.

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