“In Brighton, no Labour women will be in calm down dear mode!” Harriet Harman celebrates Labour Women’s Conference

September 13, 2013 8:00 am

Anyone who hoped that the women’s movement had lost momentum or believed that there’s no fresh energy in politics is in for a rude awakening.

On the Saturday ahead of our Labour conference, 1,000 Labour women will cram in to the Brighton Centre for our annual Labour Women’s Conference and they’ll be in an assertive and demanding mood.

The Tories and the LibDems can only dream of a powerful and dynamic horde of women at their conferences. But it won’t happen.

Because it’s Labour which is the political wing of the women’s movement.  And, gathered in Brighton they will be mobilising for and demanding radical action from Labour to deliver for women.

The point about Labour women is that we want Labour to deliver for women.  And when we do that we will attract the support of women in their votes for us so we can deliver for them. We are already clearly ahead of all the other parties in the support we have from women voters.

This Women’s conference will be about Labour delivering for women.  Not just Labour women getting women’s votes for Labour.

As Labour women, we’re gratified by the progress we made when we were in government – on childcare, maternity leave, tackling domestic violence.  But we had to fight hard and we’ve seen even that progress slip back under the Tory/Libdem government.

In Brighton none of the women will be in the “calm down dear” mode.  There will be fierce demands; for more Labour women MPs and council leaders; for more women at the top of the Labour Party – in our HQ and in our regions.  Not just because we believe in fairness and opportunity as a matter of principle for our One Nation, but because we know that its only when women are no longer so outnumbered by men that we will have the right agenda for party policy and organisation.

It’s going to be the opposite of a carefully managed event with an audience there to admire those on the platform.  It’ll mostly be “open mike” with women from all round the country and all walks of life telling it how they see it.

But we will – because the women’s movement is about solidarity – take a moment to celebrate the great work of Yvette Cooper and our women in the Shadow Cabinet, admire the indomitable spirit or Margaret Hodge – the icon for our Commission on Older Women.

Some will be pregnant, some will be grandparents.  There will be Labour women from trade unions and from management.  The women there will be in all shapes and sizes but with a united determination to make politics listen to women’s voices and to make Labour the engine for women’s equality in these difficult times.

We started this new women’s conference three years ago.  Someone helpfully predicted 40 would come but 600 women overflowed Manchester Town Hall.  This year it will be bigger than ever before and once again the biggest women’s meeting of any political party in this country.


Some men feel a bit fearful of a room of 1,000 women.  But the important thing is for women in the country to know that Labour women are banding together and are determined to deliver for them.

  • Ben Cobley

    This is the new hegemony in the Labour Party.

    As Harriet says, “it’s Labour which is the political wing of the women’s movement”.

    They say they are going to attract women voters and deliver for women, which would be great, if only it didn’t mean deterring men voters and marginalising men. But unfortunately this is what is happening at all levels of the Labour Party. The women’s movement has been a fantastic success in terms of organisation, messaging and cultural domination, to the extent that about the only public comments questioning its ideology, methods and ambitions are found on comment threads and obscure blogs like my own.

    As Harriet says, “the women’s movement is about solidarity” – but it’s a them and us solidarity that deliberately excludes a broad swathe of Labour members, supporters and voters.

    I would sympathise with much of the agenda, if only this movement hadn’t gone the way it has, becoming something else far beyond the decent and righteous original aims. It is now to a large extent a self-interest movement with substantial powers of privilege and patronage and a momentum of its own.

    I just hope the more sensible members of this movement start to realise what is going on. But given the impressive ideological and organisational momentum, I think meaningful change may be some way off, and indeed may never come.

    I’ve written about feminism and its impact within Labour quite a bit (I would never have thought of doing so before joining the party, but it is self-evidently the most powerful force at the moment). This has brought on a far amount of abuse, and plenty of opposition, but also a lot of positive comments from both men and women within Labour and outside.

    The two links below are: 1) ‘Frank Field: some home truths on Labour’s ‘equalities agenda’?’ and 2) is the second part of a look at the political ideology of patriarchy (including a look at the part-capture of the Labour Party by it).

    1) http://afreeleftblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/frank-field-some-home-truths-on-labours.html

    2) http://afreeleftblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/on-patriarchy-part-2-context-and_24.html

    • Ben Cobley

      I see my comment above has attracted a number of ‘dislikes’ in a short
      space of time, but no comments actually arguing against what I said. I
      find this disappointing, but not surprising. Like I said, I’ve received
      quite a lot of reaction to my writings about feminism and Labour.
      However very little of that reaction has been actual criticism based on
      what I have said.

      There is a powerful grouping out there within Labour which has almost carte blanche to do as it pleases without any institutionalised opposition. And when there is opposition, it ignores it. Maybe I’m seeing conspiracies behind walls that are not there, but if I was in charge of messaging for an interest group in a situation like that of Labour’s women movement, that is the strategy I would take – don’t give any fuel to the opposition; ignore it, and don’t make an issue of it.

      It’s admirable from that point of view, but it also serves the point I made. We have a party within a party that is highly and very well organised to undermine and usurp others within the same party. Fair enough to an extent in this dog eat dog world, but I do question why my Labour subs are going towards promoting something which won’t even give me time of day.

      And I’m not the only one. C’est la vie though.


    • Redshift1

      I think that’s because actually it’s rather dismissive of the need for any thought nevermind actions to get more women involved in politics.

      Now if you had simply questioned whether AWS for example has been effective in getting more women involved in politics, you’d have a point (I believe that whilst it’s been effective at getting women into parliament, they have largely been already very politicised, well-heeled women – not generally like a single mother of a council estate who started off concerned about the local SureStart Centre) BUT that isn’t what you said at all. And indeed you have no plans to address anything, just a rant against a kind of straw man version of feminism.

      To be honest, it mostly comes across as incredibly insecure…

      • Ben Cobley

        Hi Redshift, I’d like to think I’m speaking truth. If I’m not, then I’d like to hear how and why. If that means coming across as insecure that’s fine by me.

  • Hugh

    “it’s Labour which is the political wing of the women’s movement”

    Interesting stuff. Who’s the armed wing?

    • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

      John Prescott.

      • Hugh

        Ah, yes, always keen to worship at the Temple of feminism.

        • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

          Oh yes, it’s a broad church, mate. As is the Temple of Feminism.


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